The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences confirmed “TOWER” is one of 15 shortlisted nominees for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s 89th Academy Awards on Feb. 26. Official nominations will be released Jan. 24 when branch members cut the 15 to a final five nominees. Department of Radio-Television-Film Lecturer Megan Gilbride (M.F.A. ’04) produced the film and Longhorn Keith Maitland (B.A. ’98) directed the documentary.
On Aug. 1, 1966, at 11:48 a.m., the campus of The University of Texas at Austin changed forever. For 96 minutes, Charles Whitman opened fire from atop the UT Tower, killing 16 people and wounding more than 36 others. The mass murder is known as the first major school shooting in the United States, preceding several others to follow by decades.
The filmmakers’ take on the story recounts the tragic events of the day from the perspective of witnesses, victims and reporters and focuses on where survivors are today—including many who tell their stories for the first time.
“This is one of the darkest days in Austin and in all UT history,” said Gilbride, an Emmy-winning producer of narrative and documentary films. “But it’s also an amazing story of heroism and hope and of the community really coming together. We didn’t want one story of the events of that day to be the only one told.”
Based on “96 Minutes,” an article by Pamela Colhoff that ran in Texas Monthly in 2006, the film splices animated scenes with archived audio and film footage which came almost entirely from material Radio-Television-Film Associate Professor Caroline Frick researched, collected and organized over the course of 10 years. Frick is founder and executive director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), which is a co-producer of the documentary. The film uses rotoscopic animation—a technique that involves animators tracing footage by hand—to stylize and provide a fresh look to the original footage.
“‘TOWER’ is a perfect example to highlight the value of preserving film over time and illustrates what can be accomplished when creative filmmaking collaborates with the work of the preservation and scholarly community,” said Frick. “We’re really hopeful that the use of archival material from our collection can bring greater attention to our mission and hopefully raise awareness and support for what we do at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image.”
Producer Susan Thompson (B.B.A.) said the film captures a sense of caring, pride and the true meaning of fellowship. “Everyone thought this was going to be a movie about a school shooting but if you see the film, you’ll find that’s not really the case,” said Thompson. “It’s a story about heroes.”
One of the most essential films of the year.
- Roger Ebert.com
“TOWER” will be made available for video-on-demand Jan. 3 and is scheduled to air on PBS stations nationwide Feb. 14 at 10 p.m. CST.
The documentary was featured at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, where it won the audience award and grand jury prize for best documentary. It’s also been highlighted in reviews in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and on the Today Show, among others. On Oct. 11, 2016, New York City’s Paramount Building froze its three clocks at 11:48 a.m. in honor of the victims of the shooting and to commemorate the New York Film Forum release of the film.
A litany of UT Austin talent worked on the film in addition to Maitland (B.A. ’98), Gilbride (M.F.A. ’04) and Thompson (B.B.A.). Others include Associate Producer Tim Taliaferro (B.A. ’05), Associate Producer Matt Nordgren (B.A. ’04), Consulting Producer and Radio-Television-Film Chair Paul Stekler, Advisor Margaret Berry, Wardrobe Coordinator Caroline Karlen (M.F.A. ’04) and Stunts Coordinator Erica Pallo (M.F.A.). Those from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image include Executive Director of TAMI and Co-Producer Caroline Frick, Assistants Daisy Gonzalez (B.S. ’15), Gabrielle Leblanc (B.S. ’16), Hannah Whisenant (B.S. ’16), Jesus Gerdel (B.S. ’15), Kendall Parsons (B.B.A. ’89) and William Herbst.
The 89th Academy Awards are scheduled to air on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. CST on the ABC television network.