DER Documentary

Fully Awake: Black Mountain College

by Cathryn Davis Zommer and Neeley Dawson
color, 60 min, 2008



Hidden in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Black Mountain College (1933 - 1957) was an influential experiment in education that inspired and shaped twentieth century American art.

Fully Awake: Black Mountain College is a documentary film that explores the college's progressive pedagogy and radical approach to arts education. Highly democratic and faculty-owned, the school promoted practical responsibilities and the creative arts as equally important components to intellectual development.

During WWII, Black Mountain College was a haven for refugee European artists such as Josef and Anni Albers who arrived from the Bauhaus in Germany. In the socially conservative 1940s and 50s, the college also became a refuge for the American avant-garde, (Franz Kline, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Robert Creeley, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, and M.C. Richards). Fully Awake explores how the confluence of this diverse community came together to create a unique educational model.

Through narration, archive photography, and interviews with students, teachers, historians, and current artists, Fully Awake investigates the development of this very special place - the site of Buckminster Fuller's first geodesic dome, John Cage's first 'happening', and the Black Mountain Review - and how its collaborative curriculum inspired innovations that would change the very definition of "art." Through probing the legacy of Black Mountain College, Fully Awake points to a progressive pedagogical model that can continue to inspire students today.

Fully Awake is quite the best of a number of films I've seen on Black Mountain College, not in the least because it's the first such film that really explains the school within something like the context of the time and its overall impact... More, the film conveys the sense that it's as much the wonder of the fact that the school could exist at all, as anything it accomplished.” — Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress
Fully Awake stands as a valuable resource, a record of a radical experiment that succeeded brilliantly for almost a quarter century, and as affirmation of the potential of educational institutions to profoundly impact lives and springload creative development. ” — Amy White, Independent Weekly Raleigh, NC

Related Resources
Film's website:
Black Mountain College online exhibit at State Archives of North Carolina

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Special Jury Award, Rome International Film Festival, GA, 2007
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, 2009
Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 2008
NC Museum of Art, Raleigh NC, 2007
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2007
LEAF Festival, Lake Eden, Black Mountain, NC, 2007
Berkshires International Film Festival, 2007
Black Mountain Center for the Arts, Black Mountain, NC, 2007

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