Documentaries continue to change how an audience is entertained or informed with the medium. Few succeed in changing our perception of a story the way Keith Maitland's Tower has done. Last year's Oscar winner, Amy, was a game changer for me by achieving a level of humanity that I never knew about, in a talent lost too soon. Other documentaries tend to reveal unknown truths of their subjects, such as Alex Gibney's informative Going Clear. Tower, however, combines a unique narrative of artistic storytelling about the shocking history of events that took place on August 1st 1966, when a sniper at the Texas University tower killed 13 people and wounded 30 others. Maitland does a fantastic job of informing his audience of the events and honoring those that were lost. In a competitive year for documentaries, Tower is one of the best.

The details of the event are on display, through both an informative nature with the standard “talking head” approach and a unique manner. What will stand out is the rotoscope-animation, which has been memorably used in Richard Linklater's films, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. It is a highly attentive way of telling a story to an audience. Maitland has many of the people involved speak of their shocking memories from that day, with each angle revealing a different person's nightmare. In many respects, the mass shootings we are desensitized to today started on this frightening day in Texas.

The person who sat on top of the watchtower and changed the lives of many was Charles Whitman, but Maitland makes the smart decision to focus on those affected by the events, and not the shooter. Their lives were altered forever, but the films fascination with their experiences is not glorifying their trauma, but praising their valor instead. As one of the women was shot, lying on the steaming, hot concrete, another survivor spoke about his heroism, only later to realize the shock at what could have happened to him. It is in those moments where a human realizes if they are courageous or a coward, and neither choice is the wrong one. The outcome of death is a scary reality, and nobody truly knows what they would do unless they are faced with it.

The film later pulls the animation away from those still alive to tell their experiences. The emotion and haunting memories that still have an impact on them is heartbreaking. Many, such as myself, will find it hard to not to think about the numbers we see in campus and mass shootings today. It has become a part of our reality now. No longer do we fear public speaking, but the horrors of an armed shooter entering our place of work or school. It is a reality we now must confront, and Tower helps us to find the human faces that will rise up in our moment of need.

For the sake of life, I think Tower is an important film. Maitland does not choose a political side of gun ownership vs. gun control, but he at least let's his audience hear these survivor's voices, allowing us to make our own opinions. Mass shootings were, at one time, not the norm, and it's important for those who were lost to be remembered, because life is always a fragile time. A moment like that day in Austin, Texas is something that no person should ever have to experience. Now those who were lost can at least live on and be remembered as towers of power for the University of Texas community. Tower is a powerful documentary, and reminds us once more of the horrors that can occur, and the heroes that will rise. Go see this Tower-ing film.

3 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady