One of the things I love about film is the way it can communicate ideas to audiences in a way that is hard for other media to do. This is the reason why the film studies department has started curating its own film series to highlight the university’s theme.
With the theme being Creativity and Innovation the year, we had a very broad theme to run with; one that almost proves daunting in terms of scope.
However, the films we picked this year, I feel, really do the theme justice.
From my film, Tower, an animated documentary; to David Fincher’s biopic The Social Network that tells that chronicles the creation of Facebook; we really tried to run the gambit on films that were not only creative/innovative in the way they told their stories, but also showed the possibility of what one person with an idea can do in our world.
The night started off with a guest lecture from Deirdre Haj about the potential that documentary film has to change opinions and viewpoints of the world around us.
If anyone knows about the power of documentary film, it truly is Mrs. Haj, who works as the executive director for the Full-Frame Film Festival, one of the biggest documentary film festivals in the nation. As she started, she talked about how we shouldn’t compare documentary to a task such as eating broccoli, as there can be a lot learned from the genre.
As evidence, she showed clips from various docs to show the breadth that the genre is able to cover: the fly-on-the-wall realism of a presidential campaign as captured by D.A. Pennebaker in The War Room, the nonlinear poetry of Samsara, the elements of horror film that underscore the opening scene of Citizenfour, the untold stories of backup singers in 20 Feet from Stardom, and brilliance and attention to detail in I, Destini (created by a 16 year old!).
As someone who has a hard time sitting down and watching a documentary, I thought her comparison to “eating broccoli” was apt. The films she picked really did showcase the various ways documentaries can influence a viewer’s perception of the world.
I had seen the feature film, Tower, once before, and I remember it being something that I had never experienced before. But when I was sitting in the audience watching it again, I was just as blown away as I was the first time.
In a way the likes of which I have never seen before, Tower blends animation, archive footage, and shot footage to be able to tell the stories of the eyewitnesses of the clocktower shooting that occurred at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
While the subject matter itself could stand on its own as a good documentary, what makes Tower great is that it is able to use this hybridized style to show viewers what it was actually like to be on the campus that day. I found that I was much more engaged in the story the film was telling because it played out like a narrative film.
This also helped me connect with the stories that the interviewees told, and made them all the more poignant. We, as audience members, are allowed to see what is going on while simultaneously hearing the subjects narrate their stories, something that traditional films usually cannot do.
And by doing this, I felt that I was able to understand the characters’ stories all the more. By the time the film was done, we feel like we have been through the shooting by the side of those who tell their stories.
Tower is an act of filmmaking that is truly special. With its hybrid style of visual storytelling, we are able to get a deeper understanding of the events of August 1st, 1966 than could usually be afforded in the typical feature film.
Unfortunately, these mass shootings are still a common occurrence in our country. And while it still hurts my soul to hear that another one has taken place, Tower tries to offer a sense of hope and optimism in looking forward. Hopefully, others who watch this film will find that same sense of comfort, too.
–Jake Nielsen ’18
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