500 Days Of Film Reviews Documentary, Tower, From Director Keith Maitland

On 1st August 1966, a sniper opened fire from the top floor of the University of Texas Tower, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots finally ended, 16 people were dead and three dozen were left wounded.

Is It Any Good?

Moving, innovative and terrifying, Keith Maitland’s superb documentary, Tower, tells the untold stories of the witnesses, heroes and survivors of America’s first mass school shooting.


The film combines archival footage with rotoscopic animation - the action performed by a cast of young actors, based on the actual interviews of living survivors. The use of rotoscopic animation is extremely effective - drawing you into an even more intimate relationship with the people on screen.


We hear the first person accounts of seven people caught up in the events of that day: two students who were shot, two police officers who ended the siege, two civilians who provided aid to victims and police, and the radio reporter who broadcast live from the scene for more than an hour and a half.



All too often, films about tragic events focus on the people responsible - exploring their backgrounds and motivations. Maitland turns the tables in Tower and refreshingly little is revealed about the sniper himself. The focus is firmly on the innocent. 


It is truly chilling stuff. We hear from the first person to be shot from the Tower, Claire Wilson, then a pregnant 18-year-old freshman: “All of a sudden I felt like I’d stepped on a live wire, like I’d been electrocuted.” Meanwhile, paperboy, Aleck Hernandez, describes how he was shot off his bike: “I looked down and saw all this blood and I thought, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my mom and dad - or anything.” 


Tower gives real insight into the confusion and chaos on campus that day. It shows the amazing acts of bravery both from the policemen on the scene and the civilians who felt compelled to help. However, the film also looks at those who were, understandably, too terrified to act - and the crushing guilt and regret that, all these years on, they still feel.



While the first hour of Tower is set almost entirely in an animated 1966, the film’s final act reveals the faces of the actual survivors. Here Maitland explores the legacy of the Tower shooting and the lasting impact of the tragedy. The therapeutic value inherent in the act of storytelling is clear and very moving.


Tower concludes with a sense of hope - hope that the experiences of 1st August 1966 can help improve the future safety of students in a world where mass shootings are sadly all too common.

Random Observations

Maitland explains that “With the 50th anniversary of America's first school shooting approaching, I realized that the time to explore this untold history was now - and that through a creative approach, aimed at young audiences we could aim to explore themes of mental health, guns, public policy and media response to public tragedies all through the nuanced and personal lens of first hand accounts.”


Rotoscopic animation is a technique used by animators to trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame.


The film’s score is extremely effective - both in establishing a sense of time and in creating palpable tension.


Have you seen Tower?


If you have, what did you think about this documentary? Let me know by leaving me a comment in the section below.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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