Exactly 50 years ago, on August 1st 1966 Charles Whitman woke up in the morning and then killed his wife and mother. He had bought a Universal M1 carbine, two ammunition magazines and eight boxes of ammunition at a gun store, saying that he wanted to hunt wild hogs. He loved rifles and handguns. He studied engineering at the University of Texas, where he proceeded to kill 16 people and injure tens of others later in the day.
Then history repeats itself almost at the anniversary of the tragic event, in a different country. Less than 10 days ago, the German city of Munich joined the infamous club for places that saw a mass shooting, the massacre taking place inside a shopping mall. Eighteen-year-old David Sonboly, born in Munich to Iranian parents, shot dead 9 people, driven by his hate for Turks and Arabs. Police investigations revealed that he kept stashes of books about shooting rampages in his bedroom.
Civilians in the US own 270 million firearms, with about 40% of the population being armed. Both Sonboly and Whitman loved guns, loved killing people, and they were able to buy guns and kill, like many others all around the world today. The difference is that instead of a shopping mall, Whitman chose the 27th floor of the tower of the University of Texas at Austin campus, and started firing from the deck. Claire Wilson, an 18-year-old pregnant student back then, was among the first shot. She survived, but the unborn child did not.
Combining archive footage with rotoscope animation (the technique of tracing over footage, frame by frame), Tower is a narrative of untold stories behind the first campus mass murder in an American educational institution. Claire and her partner were the first people targeted by Whitman, and the first story presented in this commemoration of collective memory. Survivors tell a story that celebrates history, trauma and forgiveness. The pain in their voices is still clearly audible. The narrative is soothed by Debussy’s gentle ‘Clair de Lune’.
Tower is a powerful film because it recalls the past from a present-day perspective, It examines the paranoia of the breaking news, in a society where toy guns appear to be real and effective. It even touches on the recent mass killings debates in Europe. It is a sad irony that the film is being launched as the world heals from a remarkably similar incident.
Tower is out in cinemas on Friday, February 3rd.
Watch the film trailer below:
This piece was originally published in August 2016, as part as the DokuFest of Kosovo.