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Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

Jeffrey Wolf
Jeffrey Wolf, Fred Barron

Films are about stories. Good stories are further appreciated by placing them in a historical context. Bill Traylor lived a life span between 1854-1949. He made over 1200-1500 pieces of art that chronicle not only his own life but also the rapid cultural changes of his times.

During the last five years of our intense immersion in the world of Bill Traylor, considerable new information has been found, myths debunked, ideas discussed and debated, thus catapulting Bill Traylor to being considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts is a film that explores the almost 100-year lifespan of Artist Bill Traylor: his life, his work and the various historical events that affected him both personally and indirectly. I think it is important to dig up the past in order to move forward into the future. The research can only tell part of the story. A film can place the viewer in his world.

I want a film that gives us a cogent framework and a beautiful view of Bill Traylor’s works, yet at the same time challenges and provokes new thoughts and ideas about the man. I want us to connect with Traylor in an emotional way that is both visceral and passionate. I want a movie that feels like a fight for a man’s soul; a man who was strong, lusty, flawed, canny and cagey who kept farm, family and spirit afloat during what was possibly the most racially repressive 100 years in American history.

Characters like Traylor are interesting in the classic sense because his story comes from conflict and an exploration of his motivations and intentions. In Fred Barron’s words: “I think one major breakthrough we've made with our ideas for the film is the telling of the true story of Bill Traylor's personal life—not as a statistically representative black sharecropper, as Zora Neale Hurston would describe as a ‘Man in Full’ who turned perseverance into an art form and art into a celebration of survival.”

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