Snakebit Web Trailer

Snakebit Web Trailer

Snakebit is a documentary film on the late architect Samuel Mockbee and the radical educational design/build program known as the Rural Studio that he co-founded deep in poverty-stricken Hale County, Alabama. Awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal Award for his work at the Rural Studio, Mockbee was an artist, builder and educator who instilled his passion and philosophy in those he believed will become a new generation of “citizen architects.” Snakebit is a 60-minute film for PBS that explores the effort by Mockbee to inject architecture’s future practitioners with the knowledge and passion to improve their community’s quality of life by putting compassion and ethical responsibilities at the heart of their design.

Aptly named Rural Studio because of its remote location in West Alabama, the program invites Auburn University architecture students to leave behind the typical academic setting to live and work together in the classroom of the community. The students design homes and neighborhood buildings that reflect the needs and wants of their underserved clients—many of whom don’t have indoor plumbing or a proper roof over their heads. With minimal funding, the students build their designs, relying mostly on donated and locally salvaged materials that keep costs low and the environmental impact negligible. The result is graceful, clever and often stunning structures that provide shelter for the body and soul while fostering a healthy dialogue between disparate groups of people whose assumptions about race, class and economic disparity are upended by the experience.

Snakebit is guided by frank, passionate, never-before-seen interviews with Mockbee that provide context and insight for the story of Jay Sanders, a young Rural Studio instructor, and a group of students who design and construct an environmentally responsible home for an eccentric, destitute Hale County native known to locals as Music Man for his love of song and dance. The story unfolds during the year after Mockbee’s untimely death from leukemia as the Rural Studio struggles to maintain the guiding spirit of its founding father. Snakebit is a rich, probing film that supplements this first-hand footage with perspective from architectural heavyweights and artists who share praise and criticism of the Rural Studio, including Peter Eisenman, Richard Meier, Michael Rotondi, Larry Scarpa, Pliny Fisk III, Coleman Coker, William Christenberry, Lori Ryker, Hank Louis, Steve Badanes of Jersey Devil and Chip Lord of Ant Farm. To further enhance Mockbee’s presence in the film, the producers use archival footage of Mockbee on the lecture circuit at major universities and cultural institutions as well as various television programs, such as Charlie Rose and Nightline.

The film follows up with Music Man, Sanders, his students and other Rural Studio graduates to see how the program has affected their lives. Through scenes with architects such as Hank Louis of Design/Build Bluff in Utah and Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity, who have founded similar design/build programs, Snakebit captures the ripple effect that the Rural Studio continues to have throughout the profession. Mockbee and his team are the avatars for a new generation of architects and designers committed to putting social and environmental responsibility at the forefront of their practice. In a time when people feel increasingly overwhelmed by the social ills surrounding them, Snakebit is proof that there is ample opportunity to take a simple idea, coupled with creativity and dedication, to affect positive change in our communities. This film offers a dialogue about what it means to be both a successful professional and a responsible member of society—ultimately arguing that the latter is essential to the former.

(For @trianta =)

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