Published Apr 28, 2016Keith Maitland's Tower is remarkable in its approach to history, depicting the 1966 University of Texas mass shooting through rotoscoped animation and verbatim dialogue from interviews, performed by voice actors. The result is immediate and gripping, with a level of intimacy that allows the audience to get to know the people so often represented as numbers or statistics.
Maitland uses animation as a communicative tool, an elliptical time machine that folds moments in on themselves, playing with senses of personal geography and memory as the shooting unfolds in near real-time. Jumping between a number of characters, including the devastating story of a young couple who were the first victims, and the police and store clerk who took down gunman Charles Whitman (who we never see), Maitland assembles archival footage, radio broadcasts and personal testimonies to create an emotional panorama of a moment refracted into many.
Rather than trace a lineage of gun violence and school shootings that continues through to the present day, Tower is tightly focused on taking a moment of history and making it feel personal and in the moment. While the final section of the film loses focus as we learn about the victims and where they are today, Tower is one of the strongest documentaries of the year, and an instant highlight of the Hot Docs festival.