Keith Maitland

USA, 2016 / 96 min / English OV with EN subtitles / Documentary, Animation, Crime

A sniper, an American University, an animated documentary

On 1st August 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas at Austin Tower and opened fire, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots finally died down and gave way to silence again, the death toll had risen to 16 victims, while two dozen people were wounded. Combining archive footage with rotoscope animation,

“Tower” uses various cinematic means to perfectly convey the abruptness and brutality of the attack: an intermittent background track of contemporary rock music, the recurrent theme of a screen turned red whenever a bullet finds its target, and, above all, the metronomic succession of gunshots that break with the rest of the soundtrack and keep the film’s viewers from catching their breath – much like the witnesses of that day in 1966 running from the killer’s crosshairs. At an age where school shootings have become a tragic reality and thus lost much shock value, “Tower” takes its viewers back to a key moment in the loss of America’s innocence.

Fri 03/03 21:30 Ciné Utopia EN OV with EN subt. Public
Fri 10/03 18:30 Cinémathèque EN OV with EN subt. Public

Filmmaker Keith Maitland […] employ[s] Scanner Darkly-style animation to bring that terrible day to life. What might sound like an odd gimmick serves the film surprisingly well, especially given Maitland's pairing of actual voices with those of actors, and helps viewers raised in an age of mass shootings to identify with the bafflement felt by Austinites, by all Americans, at the time. […] A gripping combination of oral history and stylized reenactment.” John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter, 13/03/2016


“‘Tower,’ a formally and thematically ambitious documentary that revisits the 1966 sniper shootings at the U. of Texas at Austin, powerfully channels the terror and confusion of that terrible August day while also achieving the weight and authority that can only come with time and distance. A gripping dramatic reconstruction, a tribute to the heroes and the fallen, and inevitably an expression of nostalgia for the days when a mass shooting still had the power to shock […] As skillfully assembled by editor Austin Reedy (who makes excellent use of astonishing black-and-white archival footage from that morning), the narrative barrels forward with tremendous, gut-clutching momentum. (..)The thrust of the film is deeply human — attuned to small, vital acts of heroic sacrifice, and principled in its refusal to drag the shooter, Charles Whitman, into the spotlight […] Call it political if you must, but it’s the sort of observation that lets the tragedies of the past resonate with fresh, devastating clarity in the present.” Justin Chang, Variety, 15/03/2016


“It’s a sobering, even stirring, film. […] The style of Tower recalls Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, another film that combines animation with documentary storytelling to help tell a difficult and tragic story. […] The results are inherently cinematic, with the story capable of creating images and conveying ideas that would be difficult within the confines of an ordinary documentary. Also like Waltz With Bashir, Tower wields live-action footage like a weapon – it serves an punctuation on key moments, snapping you into the horrible reality of certain situations. The animation lulls you in, painting an abstraction of a tragedy…and then cold reality washes over you like a bucket of ice water. […] Tower is devastating, but it’s also a portrait of ordinary men and women rising to the occasion to help their fellow human beings in the middle of an inexplicable war zone. It’s intense. It’s moving. […] By placing us in the heart of a tragedy, by making us relive every terrifying moment with the men and women who were there, Tower drives its point home: why did we let this happen again? And again? And again?” Jacob Hall, Slashfilm, 18/03/2016


 […] Maitland cuts across multiple perspectives to construct a masterful ensemble piece. The director […] reportedly spent a decade putting "Tower" together, and the hard work shows in the way each frightening strand dovetails into the next. […] With its frantic editing strategy and constantly involving imagery, "Tower" never stops moving, as it cycles between animation and archival footage from nearly every foot of the square. While the documentary images ground the events in reality, the animation punctuates certain critical moments” Eric Kohn, Indiwire, 13/03/2016

  • Most Innovative Documentary – Critic’s Choice Documentary Awards, 2016 (USA)
  • Grand Jury Prize – Texas Competition, Dallas International Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
  • Special Jury Prize (Documentary Feature) – Montclair Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
  • Audience Choice Award (Best Documentary Feature) – RiverRun International Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
  • Grand Jury Award (Documentary Feature) – SXSW Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
  • Audience Award (Documentary Feature) - SXSW Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
  • Louis Black/Lone Star Award – SXSW Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
  • Best Documentary – dead CENTER Film Festival, 2016 (USA)
Cast & Credits
Violett Beane, Louie Arnette, Blair Jackson, Monty Muir, Chris Doubek, Reece Everett Ryan, Josephine McAdam, Aldo Ordoñez, Vicky Illk, John Fitch, Karen Davidson, Jeremy Brown
Keith Maitland, Sarah Wilson
Glenn Eanes, Lyman Hardy
Osei Essed
Killer Impact, Meredith Vieira Productions
The Film Collaborative
Craig Matthew Staggs (Animation Director), Steph Swope (Animation Producer)

Keith Maitland has been using rotoscope images since his directorial debut “The Eyes of Me” about the lives of blind teenagers. Using the technique he considers “powerful” and “intimate” again for “Tower” – a story that’s been fascinating him since hearing about it from his 7th grade history teacher, an eyewitness to the events – allowed him to avoid getting the required but limiting permissions to film and re-enact the massacre on the actual locations at the university campus.

  • 2016 - A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story (documentary)
  • 2016 - Tower (documentary)
  • 2009 - The Eyes Of Me (documentary)