This week, new legislation (S.B. 11) known as the “campus carry” law goes into effect in Texas, which allows people to carry concealed guns onto university campuses. It’s no coincidence that today also marks the 50th anniversary of what many consider to be the first mass school shooting in America. A disturbed man (some prefer not use the names of these killers as a way of muting them, which I’ll do here) climbed a tower at the University of Texas campus and terrorized innocent people for 96 minutes before being killed himself by the police. 16 people were left dead.

The Texas State Legislature maintains that more guns mean for a better, safer nation, and they emphasized that point by having the law go into effect on this grim anniversary. It would seem like a perfect moment for a well-played, insightful response.

We’re going to have to wait until October, but I wanted to at least mark this week with a post about the perfect retort; the upcoming documentary, Tower, an artful and devastating portrait of this mass killing. It is an oral history told visually through stunning and dramatic rotoscoping animation. For three quarters of the film, it carefully plays out the incident itself in dramatic, thoughtful fashion. I wasn’t crazy for the final act in which the film leaps away from August, 1st, 1966, to being a contemporary political cri de coeur regarding guns and the militarization of the police. I think it made a strong enough statement by telling the original story. But maybe that’s just me.

It’s apparent that this incident strikes the film’s director, Keith Maitland, deeply. Maitland grew up in Texas and first heard about the tragedy through a first-hand account from his teacher. He’s clearly passionate about the subject and he wants his film to make a difference. He tells me that he will probably be tweaking the film to incorporate more recent events.

You should see it. I asked Maitland a couple questions about the film and this week’s anniversary, and he went on a riff, which I present to you, edited for clarity.

Keith Maitland:

It was 10 years ago on the 40th anniversary of the tower shooting that the idea of making this film was born. At that time, we decided to aim for the 50th anniversary, to give ourselves plenty of time to research and produce a film that would live up and honor this important subject, to reveal these untold stories with emotion and complexity. So August 1, 2016, is a date that has been in my mind for all of these years and I’m excited for the special screening we’re hosting here in Austin [held on July 31st]. That being said, we never had a plan for theatrical release on August 1, primarily because it seems like a hard time to get people to go to the theater and see movies. So we are pretty excited about our October release on the heels of this anniversary.

I was in the Czech Republic presenting Tower at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, our European premiere, and during the Q&As the remarkable Czech audiences stayed to discuss the subject for over an hour. They asked me “Proc? Proc? se to stalo tak casto v Americe?” (Why? Why does this happen so often in America?)

I’ve been asked “why?” a lot of times in the last few months. I always say that my team and I, we made this film to ask that same question. We think the audience is smart enough, energized enough, angry, yes, but also hopeful enough to find some solutions. I’m heartbroken about 8/1/66 in Austin, I’m heartbroken about 6/12/16 in Orlando and 7/7/16 in Dallas, and for all the other dates and cities, the lives lost and those left behind. But I am hopeful. I’m hopeful that we can find an answer to “Proc?” I don’t have the answers, but I’m glad that the film asks the questions and I look forward to engaging audiences and to working together to find answers.

When we first started pitching this film to producers and distributors, we had a lot of questions about the significance of this 50 year old story. Who, outside of Texas would care about this? But as the Czech audiences and other international audiences have shown (in Toronto, Jerusalem, Australia, etc), this story isn’t regional, it’s not trapped in history, this story keeps replaying and the relevance of Tower has stopped being questioned. It’s as surprising to us as anyone that the relevance has only grown during the years we’ve been working on the film.

Update: Tower will premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens Tuesday, February 14 at 10/9c. Check local listings.

For more information for screenings in your area, visit the official website.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen