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.