Oscars: 3 Documentaries Take Aim at the Gun Debate

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

'Tower,' 'Newtown' and Katie Couric's 'Under the Gun' explore the fallout from unthinkable American tragedies — and why so little changed in their wake.

Ten years ago, director Keith Maitland decided to make Tower, planning to release the documentary for the 50th anniversary of one of America's first mass shootings: a sniper's deadly 1966 spree from the top of University Tower at the University of Texas in Austin. While such shootings were all too frequent by 2006, no one could have predicted that in 2012, a disturbed young man would attack elementary schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 students and six staff members.

Still, the links resonate in this year's docs about gun violence: In addition to Tower, there are two examinations of the Newtown tragedy: Kim A. Snyder's Newtown and Under the Gun, a take on the gun control debate written, directed and produced by Stephanie Soechtig and narrated by Katie Couric, who also was part of the producing team.

When production began on Tower, says Maitland, it was difficult to win support for a film examining gun violence in the 1960s — particularly one blending animation techniques with historic footage, which Maitland believes lends the film the hazy unreality of memory. Then Newtown happened. "I do think it opened the conversation up — it was so incredible, grotesque and unimaginable," he says. "The only difference is 50 years of perspective."

While Under the Gun takes aim at an issue, Tower and Newtown focus on the people that the debate affects. "I didn't want [Newtown] to be a kind of advocacy issue genre movie," says Snyder. "It's a humanitarian issue that involves the lives of children." She began chronicling the events only four or five weeks after the tragedy, but filmed for more than three and a half years. "We wanted to look at the long-term trajectory of what a community looks like after this type of violence."

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.