Before We Vanish by Lawrence Garcia Film

Tower | Keith Maitland

October 14, 2016

Keith Maitland’s Tower continues this year’s streak of excellent documentaries. The film concerns the deadly mass shooting that occurred on August 1, 1966 from the top of the University of Texas clock tower. Splicing together rotoscoped animation with more traditional documentary elements—archival footage, old photos, radio recordings—Maitland’s meticulously researched film unfolds with a present-tense urgency that focuses on the various people whose lives were shaken that day (almost entirely ignoring the shooter and his motivations). It’s an unexpected approach given the media’s tendency to zero-in on the perpetrators of such events, but one that’s incredibly bracing and moving precisely because Maitland refuses that base impulse.

The kinetic animation and editing (somewhat paradoxically) make the events even more moving than a traditional documentary would be. (There’s a scene involving Rita Starpattern—a woman who risked her life to help Claire Wilson, one of the shooting victims who was pregnant at the time—that one would be hard-pressed not to sob through.) Maitland does shoehorn in a bit of political didacticism towards the end, which is all the more disappointing since his film had already—by intentional omission—so gracefully addressed those hot-button issues. But that’s a quibble in the context of such an empathetic, beautifully composed testament to human courage and kindness.

Published as part of Vancouver International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 3.