Chasing Ghosts, The Life and Art of Bill Traylor

An Interview with Sam Pollard and Jeffrey Wolf

Bill Traylor, photo by Nicholas Kemp (Kino Lorber Team)

America’s racial reckoning is not only taking place in the streets, but also on the screen. Movies such as Judas and the Black Messiah dramatize anti-racist activism, while on the cultural front, documentaries such as Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts, directed by Jeffrey Wolf and executive produced by Sam Pollard, help to rescue lost legacies from historical obscurity. Born an enslaved person in the 1850s and buried in an unmarked grave, Traylor’s singular aesthetic vision is brought back to life in this 75-minute nonfiction film now being released by North American arthouse distributor Kino Lorber.

Pollard, who has collaborated with Spike Lee, is a brilliant, prolific producer and director of documentaries, including episodes of PBS’s 1990 landmark Civil Rights series Eyes on the Prize and its 2008 sequel; 2003’s Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin; 2017’s ACORN and the Firestorm plus Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, which aired on PBS’ American Masters series; Discovery Channel’s 2019 Why We Hate series; et al. No stranger to the fine art realm, Pollard also helmed HBO’s 2021 Black Art: In the Absence of Light.

In his 2008 documentary James Castle: Portrait of an Artist, Wolf documented another marginalized painter who’s outside of the rarefied art world’s mainstream because he’s deaf. In this candid interview conducted via conference call with the filmmakers speaking in New York, Pollard and Wolf discuss that Alabama original, Bill Traylor; whether white filmmakers should direct productions about Blacks; what the heck executive producers do, anyway; the cycle of features and documentaries about African American dissidents being surveilled by the government; the state of the documentary medium; upcoming projects; and more.

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Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Senator Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in Cinema at Manhattan’s Hunter College and is an L.A.-based film historian/critic who co-organized the 2017 70th anniversary Blacklist remembrance at the Writers Guild theater in Beverly Hills and was a moderator at 2019’s “Blacklist Exiles in Mexico” filmfest and conference at the San Francisco Art Institute. Rampell co-presented “The Hollywood Ten at 75” film series at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and is the author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States and co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.    

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