Hopptornet aka Ten Meter Tower (2017) – dir. Axel Danielson & Maximilien Van Aertryck
What does fear look like? Many horror films have asked the question, but this short doc has the answer.
The simplest ideas are sometimes the best. Swedish collaborators Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck constructed this short from footage shot over the course of three days of 67 participants on a (ridiculously) high diving board at a public swimming pool. The prospect of falling ten meters (almost thirty-three feet if you’re a Yankee) creates genuine moments of fear, bravery and even companionship, captured by a fixed, candid camera. The result was the most popular film of New York Times’ op docs series in 2017 and shortlisted for an Academy Award. This is the same Academy Award that in the previous year went to a different film about bravery wherein volunteers faced death while saving civilians in wartorn Syrian cities.
“Ten Meter Tower” uses a quick route to a visceral response. Watching the would-be divers makes one’s toes curl as they remember the feel of a precipice. The participants in the film volunteered by responding to an online notice and there’s no particular effort to hide any of the recording equipment. These are people who knowingly climbed a ladder to perform a task safely completed by several people every day and, under scrutiny of a camera, still waffle on whether to take the plunge.
Sure, the jumpers know the platform and the pool have been constructed so that ordinary use will not result in injury – have in fact seen others jump safely from this same platform. But when you’re looking at ten meters of air between yourself and the surface of the water, suddenly there’s a contest between your brain’s faith in its own knowledge and several million years of self-preservation instincts. There’s a gap between knowing something, and acting on that knowledge. The genius of Danielson and Van Aertryck is finding a point where this gap is most apparent and letting the cameras roll on it.
I have to admit, even knowing how silly it looks from that wide side angle, I sympathize with Mr. Ladder Descent of Shame.