Directed by: Keith Maitland (“The Eyes of Me”)

There are plenty of films at SXSW every year that have a distinct connection to Austin. Either touching on famous subjects, featuring local talent or being shot around famous locales, the culture of Austin is not only ingrained in the festival, but through its content. Very rarely, however, are films willing to show the darker, more upsetting sides of the towns history. Studying one of the deadliest days in the cities history, “Tower” tells the story of sniper in the tower at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.

One of the most effective things that a documentary can do is recount an event in recent history where its subjects and players are still alive to tell the story. Though 16 were killed that day in August, hundreds of students, faculty and residents were affected and unexpected heroes were born.

In one of the most creatively inspired decisions in any film this year, director Keith Maitland decided to use animation as a storytelling device. Through written voiceovers which provide anecdotal thoughts from some of the players there that day, Maitland is able to re-enact its events using animation and actors. It’s such a unique way to tell this story, and almost none of its effectiveness is blunted by that fact. In fact, Maitland’s grip as a storyteller is so firm that even things like visceral sound design lead to extreme intensity. Further, Maitland pulls off something incredibly impressive towards the end of the film that takes its impact and boosts it tenfold.

As a telling of the first mass-school shooting in US History, director Keith Maitland’s “Tower” is equal parts historic and relevant. At just 82 minutes, the film s’s brief, but expertly crafted by a talented documentarian. It’s an important part of Austin history, that is told in perhaps the most visceral, respectful manner possible. It’s also without question, one of the most affecting films this year thus far.

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