By Adam Ray Palmer
Cineroom’s second review from LFF is our first and only documentary we’ll catch this year; the heartfelt and gripping Tower.
Tower is brought to LFF by director and producer Keith Maitland who debuted his film at South by Southwest earlier this year.
I’d heard lots of good things about this unusual docu-drama and it wasn’t even a film I picked to cover…
Maitland’s Tower re-tells the true story of the 1966 American massacre at the University of Texas via multiple personal accounts. Nearly fifty years ago, a gunman rode the elevator to the twenty-seventh floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire killing 14 people in 90 minutes.
The documentary begins straight away at the university. There’s no back story and no introductions; we are just appalled immediately. There is one noticeable difference in this film though - it’s 99% animated. The moment I knew this film was going to be animated, it did disappoint me because I was worried it would lose that element of realism even though it’s a true story.
I stand firm on that comment now. The animation offered a different look to the documentary and is very creative; it also meant Keith could manipulate the camera shots too; but it just felt odd and we couldn’t get to know the characters. For instance, when the talking heads retold their individual stories, we couldn’t look at them in the eye until the last 10 minutes when we were introduced to the real people.
Putting the animation aside, Keith does make a great documentary here. Many people could think it’s simple to make a documentary film because surely it’s just the story? But it’s how you tell that story which makes a good documentary and I think Maitland delivers Tower well.
Keith knows when to accelerate and also when to ease off. Once there is a bit of action in the tale, he speeds up the animation and editing. However, immediately after these sequences, he lets the dust settle and stays with the victims so the audience can be haunted. The final 20 minutes in particular is gripping. The police ascending the tower is heart-pumping and you’re on the edge of the seat. And then as a testament to Keith, he then immediately switches from mark 10 to mark 1 as the siege is over.
Maitland then lets us see the real people and what they have had to deal with. It makes you slump back in your seat and think we actually live alongside some utter monsters. This film is more important than we think. Not only does it highlight the tragedy itself, but also raises the point that have we actually even moved on?
50 years have passed and thousands have died since with barely any movement in the gun laws. This docu-drama is also important to the survivors. As one of them notes, no psychologists were around to help them cope with their trauma in the shooting’s aftermath and he comments this film has helped him talk about it and provide a bit of closure.
On the whole, the documentary is a creative piece of filmmaking but also so frustrating. It’s maddening to think that these tragedies can happen every day in a magnificent country like America. As the film climaxes, the closing images of two would-be victims walk across the campus square haunt you as the credits roll. It screams at you that anyone could be a target.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
Tower will be released later this year – certificate TB