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Emil Joseph Willimetz   

August 2, 1918 -
July 2, 2003


Filmmaker and Producer
Tour Organizer



Summer Session/Work Camp



Emil Willimetz, son of Leopold and Fannie WIllimetz, Austrian immigrants, was reared in the politically active Bronx of the Depression. In high school he had been a rebel, helping organize an anti-war strike sponsored by the League against War and Facism and winning a Literary Contest sponsored by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. After high school, without the funds to attend college, Willimetz set out on one of many trips, hitchhiking and riding the rails. This trip was through the South. One ride was in the rumble seat of a car with a group of young women camp counselors. Willimetz recalled that as they approached the village of Black Mountain, the young woman sitting in his lap was becoming increasingly heavy and he disembarked. He had read about Black Mountain College in a catalogue in his high school library and was curious to learn more. It was summer and only Theodore Dreier and his family were at Lee Hall. Dreier gave Willimetz a job building a fence, and a year later Willimetz was admitted with a scholarship.

At Black Mountain Willimetz took a general curriculum with a focus on writing and literature. He also took part in several plays. With David Way, he set up a printing press and established his own press, the Grafix Press (at Black Mountain anyone could start and name their own press). They printed college forms as well as programs from drama and music productions. Willimetz operated the press as a commercial venture at Lake Eden in the summer of 1940. By the end of the third year, Willimetz was becoming increasingly restless and he – and the faculty – decided that it was time for him to leave.

In the fall of 1940 Willimetz attended a training camp for CIO labor leaders at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee – he had spent the summer of 1938 there and worked in print shops in New Jersey and for the CIO in Tennessee. In April 1943 he was drafted and sent to the European front. Twice wounded, he was discharged. He returned to the States in March 1946.

In New York Willimetz worked for Ezra Stoller, the architectural photographer, whose brother Claude Stoller had been a Black Mountain student. He then moved back south to work for the Southern Regional Film Production Service. Using the expertise from both of these apprenticeship jobs, he returned to Highlander Folk School to found the Film Center there. 

In Knoxville in1955 WIllimetz formed PhotoGrafix, a commercial audio-visual company, and in 1957 in Peru he formed his own film company, Audio Visual Productions S.A. For thirteen years the company made documentary films as well as TV commercials and industrial still photography. He produced films for the U.S. Information Service for television, local universities, industry and other clients. He was stringer for Metronome and ABC news services. His assignments took him to many countries, and his trips to the Amazon were the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the area. 

When the military took over and nationalized his company, Willimetz moved to New York. There in the 1970s he recreated Audio Visual Productions, which primarily made films and filmstrips for family planning organizations and day care school supervisors. His films include Miguel Suave, the story of a young man from the Andes in overcrowded Lima, The Land of Many Faces and The Widening Gap,both on South America (for McGraw-Hill), the award-winning Foxfire, the first of the films on the Foxfire experience in Rabun Gap, Georgia; and The Growing Years in Sight and Sound for Childcraft.

Willimetz organized and led nature/adventure tours in the rainforest of the Amazon, South America, New Guinea and New Zealand. 

On Willimetz’s trip south to work for the CIO, he met his wife Joanna "Joie", a Bank Street graduate and teacher. Together they reared two sons, James and Andrew. From 1985, the Willimetz's lived in Maine. 

Willimetz's autobiography Gringos was published in October 2003. The chapter on his war years was published in the Summer 2001 issue of the Maryland Historical Review and his memoir of the hitchhiking trip to Black Mountain College appeared in the Fall 2OO2 issue of the North Carolina Literary Review.


Emil Willimetz in the Black Mountain College Printshop. Photo courtesy, North Carolina State Archives, Black Mountain College Papers (224.1)

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