September 22, 2021


Showing: Streaming from May 7
Year: 2018
Country: USA
Genre: ,,

View Trailer
Purchase Tickets Now

Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation in Alabama, and after the Civil War he farmed as a sharecropper. In the late 1920s, aging and alone, he moved to Montgomery and worked odd jobs until, in his 80s, he became homeless and started to draw and paint scenes from plantation life and of a changing urban culture. USA, 2018, 76 minutes, documentary.

Community Partner: Rockland Center for the Arts

On Monday, May 17, join us for a discussion with Jeffrey Wolf, the director of Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts, and Sketchlog artist Bill Batson, at 7:00 PM. The moderator will be actress, playwright, and Rivertown Film board member Bea Pohl. Register for the discussion HERE.

Tickets are now on sale, HERE. To be informed of when registration is open for the Zoom discussion, send an email to

Having witnessed profound changes 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.

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts reflects forgotten world and its marginalized people. It gives voice to a man who endured a long life of extreme hardships during an era of legalized racial indignities, to become one of America’s most prominent artists, exhibited in museums and collections worldwide.

“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

“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

“Introduces to a wider audience one of the most important American artists of the 20th century, whose life traversed slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, the Great Migration and each’s accompanying tumultuous social and political upheaval.” – Lisa Wong Macabasco, The Guardian

“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

“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

“A spry and inventive account of extraordinary transcendence. Traylor was both an artist and a historian, and Chasing Ghosts is appropriately both a work of art and history—a beautiful film with a sense of swing and soul.”
Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine

“Bill Traylor’s art speaks to the universal language of humanity – a cry for justice, dignity and resilience.”
– Andrew J. Young Jr., 14th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

“A celebration of art and the best of humanity transcending poverty, racism and despair.”
– Southern Poverty Law Center

“In Traylor, we can see the power of individual voice… the work is transcendent and essential.”
Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine

“An extraordinary artist… Traylor’s pictures stamp themselves on your eye and mind.”
Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker


  • Jury Prize for Freedom Award – Fine Arts Film Festival