‘Tower’ sheds light into the Texas Tower massacre

Near the end of “Tower,” is a montage of news clips — too familiar scenes from Columbine and Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College. It puts Keith Maitland’s 93-minute documentary, “Tower,” into perspective — that “there are monsters and they walk around us.”

Directed by Maitland, “Tower” is a chilling recreation of the 96 minutes near the University of Texas campus on August 1, 1966.

Maitland grew up hearing the first-person stories of the Texas Tower shooting when he was in seventh grade. After reading Pamela Colloff’s 2006 Texas Monthly article, Maitland was inspired to capture some of these narratives in a documentary. Over the course of six weeks, his project raised $70,000 on IndieGogo.

Maitland and producer Susan Thomson interviewed more than 100 eyewitnesses to research the film. The interviews are the basis of the film’s narrative, which began on the steps outside the campus tower. Tom Eckman (voiced by Cole Bee Wilson) and his heavily pregnant girlfriend Claire Wilson (voiced by Violet Beane) were heading to the parking meter near campus when they were shot. It was “like stepping on an live wire, like I’ve been electrocuted,” Wilson describes.

Alternating between animation, grainy archival footage, photos and more recent interviews, “Tower” lets us live through the events of August 1, 1966. Interviews are dubbed and animated to allow us to picture the younger shelves of Texas Tower shooting survivors. We don’t see actual interview footage of much older versions of cops Ramiro Martinez (voiced by Louie Arnette) and Houston McCoy (voiced by Blair Jackson), KTBC anchor Neal Spelce (voiced by Monty Muir) and others until the end of the film.

This technique allows the animators to recreate events and emotions from 50 years ago. We see hope in bright colors — like the vivid, orangey-red hair of Rita Starpattern (voiced by Josephine McAdam), a women who ran into the face of danger. And for the bleakest moments, they strip the animation of color so all we see are black and white. As we listen to the sound of gunfire, white silhouettes of people fall over a crimson red background.

“Tower” is emotionally draining documentary, yet it’s an important testimonial of the unfathomable events that plague our country. Rather than focus on the killer though (his name is only mentioned briefly at the end), Maitland makes sure the stories of the 13 people killed and the many more wounded are remembered forever.

“Tower” was directed by Keith Maitland and premiered in Western New York as part of the tenth annual Buffalo International Film Festival. 

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