SXSW REVIEW: TOWER

We’ve all seen a documentary or heard the news after a school shooting.  Usually, the report consists of the number of deaths, a profile on the killer, etc.  In the aftermath, we are left trying to answer the always unanswerable question, ‘Why did they do it?’

This is a question that TOWER never seeks to answer.

Instead, the entire movie takes a completely different approach to telling the story of the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas Tower.  Yes, a school shooting that took place 33 years before the infamous Columbine High tragedy in 1999.   This is an issue we’ve been dealing with for 50 years.

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TOWER is told entirely through the voices of the survivors of August 1st.  These survivors were on campus, some narrowly missed death, some cowered in fear, while others became heroes.  The filmmakers manage to put you into the time of the shooting by transforming archival footage, reenactment, and younger versions of the interviewees into rotoscope animation, moving back and forth between the two seamlessly.  The effect creates a bridge in the gaps between what we have seen before and the stories the survivors bring to the table through interviews some 49 years later.  These survivors bravely tell their stories while we watch what almost doesn’t even seem real occur on the screen through the amazing realism that that unique animation type provides.

The film never once speaks the name of the killer, nor is he ever shown on screen.  This is its biggest strength and what totally sets it apart from any other media about this subject matter.  By doing this, TOWER still allows itself to tackle the issue of ‘How do we keep this from happening again?’ without ever lingering in the small picture of ‘How do we keep a person fitting exactly this profile from doing the exact same thing again?’  Or worse yet, ‘What could we have done in this situation to have a different outcome?’

It ends not with a call to arms, but a call for survivors of tragedy to be brave and to share their story, whether it be at the Capitol building against open carry laws or just to anyone who will listen and be affected.  The film wishes not to make a legend of the killer, but instead give strength to those who survived and are willing to make the event human.  Ultimately, striving to create a world of empathy.

Grade A+

Written by: Carrie Cates

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