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Interview: ‘Tower’ director Keith Maitland talks his unique documentary
Photo of Tower Director Keith Maitland

Interview: ‘Tower’ director Keith Maitland talks his unique documentary

Director Keith Maitland shocked audiences at South By Southwest this year with the premiere of his critically acclaimed and incredibly unique semi-documentary “Tower.” Using both archival footage and animation, the story attempts to capture 1966 shootings at the University of Texas at Austin — one of the first mass school shootings in American history.

And after being floored by his powerful film, the Stanford Daily had the opportunity to interview Mr. Maitland about his stunning feature, now playing in local theaters.

The Stanford Daily (TDS): Why did you choose to use rotoscopic animation, which involves animators actually tracing over motion picture footage frame by frame? And how did you decide when to use animation and when to use archival footage?

Keith Maitland (KS): I knew there was really incredible archival footage, which was shot by handheld 16mm camera operators who rushed to campus from the local news — I had seen it and was aware that those photographers had captured the chaos and frenetic energy of the day through long shots and wide angled shots. But what was missing was close-ups and medium shots that let individual characters emerge. So I designed a structure that would allow us to use the archival as a framework and build out whatever was visually missing though animation. I love working with rotoscopic animation because under the incredible handpainted artwork are real actors and real human performances. Craig Staggs and his team at Minnow Mountain really captured the essence of the actors’ portrayals, exceeding my expectations.

TDS: What drew you to the story initially?

KS: Growing up in Texas, this is a story that I had heard about from time to time and I was waiting for someone to make the film that would fill in the blanks and offer our community (I live in Austin) a chance to heal. We still needed that, all these years later.

TDS: How do you feel the cultural landscape around mass shootings has changed since the UT Austin shootings?

KS: I’m not one to say that the world is an entirely different place then versus now. But there are significant differences. Austin has grown. It’s not a sleepy little town — it’s a mid-sized city with police officers who are now trained and given special assignments in these kind of events. So the institutional approach would definitely be different.

TDS: What surprised you the most over the course of your research and interviews?

KS: The most surprising element was hearing how multiple people risked everything to rescue Claire and to aid other fallen students. This silence was pervasive, and it frustrated our efforts, but it also invited us to push beyond the standard doc formats into a place where we can tell these stories in an artful way. That, and it was surprising to realize that there was a near universal reaction from each of our interviewees, saying “we never talked about it.”


Contact Rey Barcelo at rbarcelo@stanford.edu.

About Rey Barceló

Rey Barceló is a sophomore studying Computer Science (and trying to pick up a Film minor along the way)! He hails from sunny SoCal, but spent far more time watching films than going to the beach. Happiest when immersed in the psychedelic sounds of Tame Impala, the invented worlds of Jorge Luis Borges, and the Criterion Collection, he can usually be found in the Media and Microtext Center of Green Library, in between Paul Thomas Anderson and Ingmar Bergman. He recommends "Hausu" (1977) for its gritty depiction of carnivorous-piano-related deaths and "Cemetery of Splendour" (2015) for its action-packed thrills.