ANGEL OF NANJING

Suicide Prevention

(Filmmakers Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo’s Angel of Nanjing¬†presents a look at a local man who attempts to keep suicidal people from jumping off the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China. The film is available now on VOD and all major platforms.)

Since 2003, Chen Si has spent his weekends patrolling the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China. He’s not there to deter graffiti or play crimestopper, he’s there to stop people from committing suicide in a country where 30% of the world’s suicides happen. A seemingly Sisyphean task, as every week seems to bring more tragedy despite his best efforts.

And it’s not like everyone who’s thinking of jumping off the bridge is wearing a bright sign that says “I’m Depressed! Save Me!”, so often it’s an uncomfortable matter of guesswork for the well-practiced Chen Si. Body language, the length of time loitering, or even the expression on their face are often the only hints he gets that someone might be feeling suicidal, so Chen Si’s approach can be overwhelmingly abrasive and direct for those who aren’t contemplating suicide, but a necessity to break through to those that are. If he’s found someone in truly down spirits, his drive is relentless; if he can’t reason them off the bridge, he’ll pester them until they give up on suicide, at least for that moment, and instead join Chen Si for a meal or conversation, well away from the dangers of the bridge.

Filmmakers Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo’s Angel of Nanjing presents the grim, yet hopeful, world of Chen Si, a modern day superhero whose impact can be felt in the individual lives he’s saved, but often seems statistically insignificant overall. Despite lacking formal training, Chen Si does his best to counsel those in trouble. Sometimes that means mediating problems between a cold husband and his distraught wife, sometimes it means finding a job for someone convinced they’ll never be able to afford living. His free time is dedicated to others; his phone number well-advertised and always available.

It’s a vulnerable position to be in, and while Chen Si’s outlook is positive, and he sees it as his duty to save those who are suffering, that doesn’t mean that he is unaffected. His family life sometimes suffers. He drinks too much to cope. He often finds it hard to share his thoughts and feelings with those around him. He gets abuse from those who he misreads and mistakenly tries to save (and sometimes takes abuse when he gets it right). It’s often a thankless endeavor.

Nevertheless, Chen Si perseveres. Angel of Nanjing captures the struggle, but also the soul. It doesn’t do its best to paint Chen Si as a flawless saint, it just presents his thoughts and actions as they are. Maybe not everyone can be saved, but if even one person can be, then isn’t the effort warranted?

– Mark Bell (@8MarkBell8)

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