Tower (USA, 2016): A gripping mix of animation and archive material, Tower is an oral recount of the events in Austin in 1966, in which a gunman killed 16 people and wounded over 30. Thanks to abundant footage (the shooting lasted over an hour and a half, allowing considerable coverage), director Keith Maitland reconstructs the entire standoff. Every blank is filled with animation, a strategy that translates into growing tension and uneasiness.

The film is anchored by a pregnant woman who was shot early on and left bleeding in plain sight. Nobody could approach her as the sniper would have had a clean shot of any good Samaritans. While every POV in Tower is riveting, this one in particular is the clincher. The parallels between the events from fifty years ago and today’s mass shootings are not lost on anybody. The “good guys with guns” trying to take down the shooter ended up endangering those with the skills to do it successfully. 4.5/5 prairie dogs.

Tower will also play on Monday, May 2nd, and Friday, May 6th.

The Apology (Canada, 2016): During the Asia-Pacific portion of World War II, Japanese troops regularly kidnapped female teens to use them as sexual slaves (“comfort women”). The despicable practice has never been officially acknowledged, despite some mild international pressure.

The documentary follows three survivors (or Grandmas, as they are known in their countries of origin) from Korea, China and the Philippines. Their lives were defined by the actions of the Japanese army, and two became barren as a result. Now in their eighties and nineties, they still haven’t found peace: While one is a resolute activist who visits the Japanese embassy weekly to demand an apology, another is still gathering courage to tell her family about her past.

The Apology does a superb job depicting these women’s lives and how they cope with what happened to them. It’s not nearly as effective from a journalistic perspective, as there is little effort put on explaining Japan’s refusal to admit any wrongdoing, let alone looking for a path that would force the government to apologize. 3/5 prairie dogs.

The Apology will also play on Sunday, May 8th.

Aim for the Roses (Canada, 2016): A tale so bizarre it can only be true, Aim for the Roses tells the story of two men with a soft spot for gonzo spectacle. First we have Ken Carter, the foremost Canadian daredevil who in 1976 decided he wanted to jump the St. Lawrence river. Yearning to leave a mark in history, Carter was consumed by this obsession. He didn’t have the best technicians or engineers to support his dream, but that wouldn’t stop him.

Three decades later, musician Mark Haney created a concept album for solo double bass inspired by Carter’s escapades. Just to make his task harder, Haney translated the numbers related to the jump into music, and turned ads into lyrics.

I won’t tell you about the outcome of either undertaking (although some may be privy of the info). Suffice to say it’s rather unexpected. Director John Bolton mixes archive footage, first-hand testimonies and an in situ staging of Haney’s opus of dubious quality. The combination somehow works and provides one of the best times you’ll have in HotDocs this year. 3/5 stars.

Aim for the Roses will also play on Monday, May 2nd, and Friday, May 6th.