The winner of SXSW 2016’s Best Documentary Feature Award and several other awards and nominations at festivals worldwide, Tower is truly something special. 50 years ago, at the University of Texas at Austin campus, a US Marine and engineering student named Charles Whitman began opening fire on the campus from the centrally located tower. He began his killing spree by first killing his mother and wife, before heading to UT and beginning his reign of carnage and terror. Possessing an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and training that made those weapons even deadlier, Whitman’s actions ended in 16 deaths (14 at the campus, in addition to his family) and 32 more wounded. Tower tells the story of the 1966 tragedy in a unique way that reminds us all that humanity can triumph in times of great peril.
Tower takes a different approach in how it tells the story of what happened in 1966 in Austin. Using animated, the story is told both visually and orally, recreating the scenes to create a firsthand account of what it felt like when the events were taking place. The viewer is placed right in the middle of the action, witnessing victims struggle and brave men and women do everything they can to help others and eliminate the threat. The stories of the victims are being told be younger versions of themselves, as if the documentary was taking place in real time or soon thereafter the tragedy took place. The 1966 versions of the people who survived are the ones telling us the story as we watch it unfold. As the story goes on, we eventually meet the real life storytellers as they are today, telling the story in their own voice. The storytellers jump back and forth from their present day form to their animated younger selves. from time to time as the film reaches it’s climax.
This unique method of documenting the stories of people who struggled on this day helps to create an aesthetic that makes the story attractive and engaging. However, the story, in and of itself, is also fascinating. What we are treated to is a powerful story of how an awful tragedy can bring out the best in people. The victims who survived, as well as those who helped them, narrate several sub stories of people helping others get to ambulances, get out of harms way, or get whatever help and care they need. Another story in the series of intertwined accounts demonstrates the bravery of people doing what they believed they needed to in order to story the maniac. What rings most true in all of these accounts is how little people were concerned about themselves and how much they were putting the lives and needs of others ahead of their own. This is what humanity is made for. We are to be there for each other in times of great trials and tribulations. Tower reminds us that this isn’t just some pie in the sky ideal, but is something that can actually be achieved.
In our current climate of police brutality, mass murder, war, and devastation, it’s hard not to acknowledge how powerful this film’s message is in 2016. It reminds us that in the face of things like the shooting of officers in Dallas, the hate fueled actions taking place here and aboard, and the questionable policing methods employed in some of our nation’s cities, our greatest asset in our battle to escape the madness is each other.
Tower is a must see gem that chronicles an American tragedy through showing the bright light shining within the very people being attacked in that tragedy. From a historical standpoint and from an understanding that we, as humans, need to band together to find against injustice and evil, this film is as important as any other released this year. Teachers, show your students. Parents, show your children. Everyone who can should watch this film and remember what this life is really all about and how we can all help each other through this grand journey.