"Snakebit" by an Architect: A Houston Filmmaker's Tribute

"Snakebit" by an Architect: A Houston Filmmaker's Tribute

If the looks of things at the MFAH Tuesday night were any indication, late architect Samuel Mockbee's prodigious facial hair is contagious--at least judging by the production team for the documentary Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio, which screened at the MFAH in conjunction with the Rice Design Alliance. Houston-born director Samuel Douglas and producer Jack Sanders both seemed to be under the same southern aesthetic influence: Was it Alabama rural chic (or just the influence of Austin)?

Fashion aside, Citizen Architect is the best kind of documentary: It has inspiring ideas, compelling characters, and an awesome original old-time blues score. It doesn't hurt that the filmmakers' raw material was fantastic: Mockbee, who died of leukemia in 2001, was endlessly quotable, photogenic, and a very talented modern architect.

Founder of the pro-bono architectural project The Rural Studio, Mockbee was an inspiring man. He brought architecture students and other various hangers-on together in a summer-camp-style environment in rural, desperately impoverished Hale County, Alabama, to build progressive modern housing and community facilities for the residents there (way before Brad Pitt's Make It Right Project in New Orleans). And according to Mockbee, once students experience the studio they're "snakebit," hooked on the cause and the Rural Studio way of working.

For Douglas, the Mockbee influence started when he was a kid, and his dad took him to see their family friend speak at the same MFAH auditorium where the film screened Tuesday night. It didn't just inspire Douglas to make the film, he also married Mockbee's daughter Sarah Ann, Citizen Architect's co-producer. Now that's what we call "snakebit."


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