One of the most powerful documentaries of 2016 is Tower, which plays at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth this weekend. This account of Charles Todd Whitman’s shootings from the clock tower of the University of Texas arrives to mark the 50th anniversary of that mass murder. However, Keith Maitland takes an unusual approach to the incident. He stages re-enactments of the shooting with actors portraying the victims, witnesses, and lawmen who dealt with the situation. However, he uses rotoscoping animation to depict their actions, a device that gives you-are-there urgency to the events unfolding before us and the interviews with the witnesses while avoiding the cheesiness that sometimes comes with documentaries that restage events. These are intercut with news footage taken at the time as well as interviews with those who have lived to the present day.
The film turns up its share of searing information, such as on-the-scene radio reporter Neal Spelce recounting how he read the names of the victims on the air and discovered that a colleague’s grandson was among the dead. It also pays tribute to the courage of those like Rita Starpattern, who lay down on hot concrete alongside shooting victim Claire Wilson to keep her from losing consciousness. Most of all, it harks back to the first of many mass shootings that American lawmakers have done precious little to prevent in the 50 years since.
Tower plays Fri-Sun at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. Tickets are $7-9. Call 817-738-9215.