Blending animation with live action, oral history and archival footage, Keith Maitland’s SXSW winner is a suspenseful doco that recreates the terrible day of America’s first mass shooting on a campus.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
This incredibly ambitious documentary, made about the day in 1966 when Charles Whitman shot and killed 14 people at the University of Texas campus in Austin, captures the horror and confusion of the tragedy as if it happened yesterday. Nowadays, mass shootings are so common in the US that people are nearly desensitised to them, which makes it so surprising that a riveting account of a 50-year-old massacre could be so affecting to contemporary viewers. Based on a haunting 1996 oral history by Pamela Colloff, filmmaker Keith Maitland’s decade-long quest expands on that source with multiple interviews. It encompasses sequences with rotoscoping animation similar to that used by Richard Linklater in his feature films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, through with the vivid recollections of those involved are brought to life with immediacy and urgency. As the doco builds suspense, Maitland wisely uses palette changes and archival footage to achieve tonal shifts. There are numerous narratives woven throughout, but none more tragic than those provided by Claire Wilson James, whose nightmarish ordeal is so heartbreaking that you’ll never skim over another mass shooting headline with bystander indifference. — AT