The doc captures the life of the titular Bill Traylor who, in his late 80s, living homeless on the street in the thriving segregated black neighborhood of Montgomery, produced a body of extraordinary art. Born into an enslaved family in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama, he witnessed profound social and political change during his life spanning Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration.
In his later years, he poured out those memories from within, drawing and painting over 1,000 pieces of art from 1939 to 1942. Using historic and cultural context, the film brings the spirit of Traylor’s art to life and shines a spotlight to a remarkable creative gift that was long ignored and marginalized. His works have since been shown at New York City’s David Zwirner Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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Producers on the project are Fred Barron, Producers Daphne McWilliams, Jeany Nisenholz-Wolf, with executive producer Sam Pollard. The deal was negotiated by by Kino Lorber SVP Wendy Lidell and filmmaker Wolf.
“Bill Traylor’s journey from his birth into an enslaved family to the exhibition of his drawings in the Museum of Modern Art is one of wonder and inspiration. His revelatory body of work are documents that tell vital stories of African American life, and we are proud to bring Jeffrey Wolf’s keenly observed documentary of Traylor’s life and art to North American audiences,” said Lidell.
Wolf added, “Bill Traylor survived nearly a century of legalized racial tyranny to become one of America’s most prominent artists. The film reimagines the way we see and talk about Bill Traylor’s art and his influence on the art world. Traylor was a chronicler of his time—he devised his own visual language to record and translate an oral culture into something unique, powerful, and culturally rooted.”
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