On August 1, 1966, on the University of Texas campus in Austin Texas, a sniper set up shop in the campus tower and began to randomly shoot any and everyone he saw. By the end of the day, Charles Whitman killed 17 people before police finally gunned him down.


The incident only lasted 90 minutes, but in that ninety minutes an entire city was paralyzed as the unknown assailant, later identified as Charles Whitman shot 49 people with his small arsenal of weapons. It would later be learned, he killed his wife and mother earlier in the morning.


Director Keith Maitland premiered his mostly animated, fact based documentary that recounts what eye-witnesses saw and survivors experienced, at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin where it won the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award for best documentary. It has its merits as it provides a gripping story that relives minute by minute those affected by the event.

Violett Beanne provides the voice of Claire Wilson, the first person sniped and eight months pregnant. She survives, despite the fact her unborn baby was killed as well as her male companion who was shot when he knelt to assist her.


Blaire Jackson provides the voice of Houston McCoy, one of the officers credited with entering the tower and subduing the sniper with bullets. He recounts how his casual day began, before getting a broken message that something was wrong at the university.


The animation is supplemented with old photos from the time and possibly from the shooting scene giving the film a gut-wrenching feel with the voice-overs. The film further tends to focus more on the reaction of the people who came to the assistance of the victims rather than bother with any type of psychological profile of Whitman.


Maitland began the project several years ago and with the aide of fourteen animators brought the film to fruition in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the shooting, though the film is being released nearly two months after the actual anniversary.


"Tower" is a very well done, engrossing documentary of an event that, considering the recent craziness, most would rather forget. However, it is just as timely now as it was frightful in 1966.   -- GEOFF BURTON