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University shooting doc on possible Oscar list

‘Tower’ examines Charles Whitman’s 1966 mass killing

Animated frame of a man looking at silhouette of UT Main Building Tower
Promo photo from Tower
Promotional photo

Tower, a documentary that looks at the terrible day in the summer of 1966 when a sniper killed 14 people and wounded several others, is on a list of 15 docs being considered for Oscar nomination, Deadline Hollywood reported Tuesday.

Combining archival footage, current-day interviews, and animated interpretations, the film is based on Texas Monthly Senior Editor Pamela Colloff's article “96 Minutes,” an oral history of the incident.

As the first mass school shooting of its kind, and the one with the most casualties until the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, the tragedy had was unreal, almost unbelievable shock that contemporaries recognized almost immediately as an event that would change American society.

As an unfortunate precursor to numerous campus shootings that would follow decades later, it also made us look at university campuses and their buildings as places that might need defending, also a new and terrifying thought. And now the “307-foot, Beaux-art style clock tower,” as Patrick Sauer puts it on Trace, is an icon of tragedy and terror.

Or so it would seem to people who were alive when the incident took place. For his part, award-winning, Austin-based director and UT alum Keith Maitland, who is of course much younger than that, was surprised at how little UT students were told about the massacre and that there was not (until this year) a memorial to its victims. And while a veritable cottage industry exploring the life and mind of Charles Whitman sprang up in the aftermath of his crimes, Maitland’s documentary is focused on the former, telling the stories of those who did and didn’t survive rather than retracing the well-trod accounts of the shooter’s life.

Other films on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shortlist for Documentary Feature hopefuls—narrowed from 145—include O.J.: Made in America, 13th, and Weiner.

Oscars: Documentary Feature Race Narrowed To 15 [Deadline Hollywood]

‘Tower’: a Haunting New Documentary about a Mass Shooting, Not a Mass Shooter [The Trace]