This illuminating documentary explores the life of a unique American artist, a man with a remarkable and unlikely biography. Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama. After the Civil War, Traylor continued to farm the land as a sharecropper until the late 1920s. Aging and alone, he moved to Montgomery and worked odd jobs in the thriving segregated black neighborhood. A decade later, in his late 80s, Traylor became homeless and started to draw and paint, both memories from plantation days and scenes of a radically changing urban culture.
Having witnessed profound social and political change during a life spanning slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration, Traylor devised his own visual language to translate an oral culture into something original, powerful, and culturally rooted. He made well over a thousand drawings and paintings between 1939-1942. This colorful, strikingly modernist work eventually led him to be recognized as one of America’s greatest self-taught artists and the subject of a Smithsonian retrospective.
Using historical and cultural context, Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts brings the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s incomparable art to life. Making dramatic and surprising use of tap dance and evocative period music, the film balances archival photographs and footage, insightful perspectives from his descendants, and Traylor’s striking drawings and paintings to reveal one of America’s most prominent artists to a wide audience.
Jeffrey Wolf | Documentary | 75 minutes | USA | $12
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Watch an exciting live virtual Q&A scheduled for next Tuesday, April 27! The event will be moderated by Executive Producer Sam Pollard and will include a discussion between Filmmaker Jeffrey Wolf & Richard J. Powell of Duke University. The events begins at 7:00PM EDT.
What: Live Virtual Q&A with BILL TRAYLOR: CHASING GHOSTS Filmmaker Jeffrey Wolf & Richard J. Powell of Duke University, Moderated by Executive Producer Sam Pollard
When: Tuesday, April 27 at 7:00 PM EDT
Where: Film Forum YouTube page
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“Bill Traylor’s art speaks to the universal language of humanity – a cry for justice, dignity and resilience.” – Andrew J. Young Jr., 14th US Ambassador to the UN.
“Critic’s Pick! A sincere, nourishing account of the artist. Wolf makes excellent use of photo and film archives, laying out the territory that fed Traylor’s vision.” – Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
“Jeffrey Wolf celebrates the work of Bill Traylor, who survived slavery to become an artist in his mid-80s. An invaluable addition to our still-developing understanding of an artist whose fame raises thorny questions, Jeffrey Wolf’s Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts introduces a man whose distinctive drawings depict life during the final years of slavery and the decades that followed.” – John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
“Speaks volumes on the life and times of the artist. The pieces themselves… lend those ghosts of his past a persistent, ethereal relevance.” – Michael Rechtshaffen, Los Angeles Times
“Jeffrey Wolf’s exceptional documentary Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts seeks to tells its subject’s story in a deeply personal way, while also pulling back when needed to contextualize his work.” – G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle
“An extraordinary artist… Traylor’s pictures stamp themselves on your eye and mind.” – Peter Schjeldal, New Yorker
“Brings the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s art to life and shines a spotlight on a creative gift that was long ignored and marginalized.” – Dave McNary, Variety
“In Traylor, we can see the power of individual voice… the work is transcendent and essential.” – Jerry Saltz, NY Magazine