Would you have the courage to risk your life to save someone else? In 1966 a man with a rifle started shooting at passers-by indiscriminately from the top of a tower in Austin, Texas. Bodies lay on the street. The shooting continued for ninety minutes before the gunman was stopped. This film recounts the stories of some of the people who were caught in the event.
What makes this film special is that it is an animation, using the same ‘rotoscoping’ technique that Richard Linklater employed in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. It’s mixed with footage and photographs of the event and with present-day interviews with the survivors. The animation draws out individual incidents, with the background chaos greyed out in a way that filmed footage couldn’t achieve. A pregnant woman and her boyfriend were shot. As she lay bleeding on the baking-hot concrete, exposed and helpless, the animation distorts psychedelically to express how she drifted in and out of consciousness. As she thinks of how much she loves her boyfriend, we were shown stylised, colourful joyful flashbacks to express their happiness. She survived to recount her experience but sadly her boyfriend and her baby died.
But it’s not all sad or depressing. The film focuses on those who found the courage or impulse to act. A woman who risked being shot herself by staying with one of the injured, to talk to her, sustain her and stop her drifting into unconsciousness. Or the middle-aged man who put himself in tremendous danger to assist the few confused and frightened policemen who eventually halt the shootings. This film doesn’t try to explain the gunman; his biography is barely mentioned. Up to the end he is a hidden sniper, an abstract danger. This isn’t his story. This is the story of the survivors and of the brave people who acted, who cared and who proved their strength of character in a terrifying situation. This quietly emotional and powerful documentary left me impressed by their actions and wondering whether I could be so courageous in their place.