Shella Record - A Reggae Mystery

Artist and vinyl fanatic Chris becomes haunted by a lost singer’s voice after discovering an incredible junk shop record. He embarks on a quest to find her from Toronto, to Kingston Jamaica and all across America enlisting the help of psychics, private investigators and a ghost hunter on a supernatural adventure. The documentary is a whimsical mystery and meditation on the power of music and obsession.

  • Chris Flanagan
    Ruff and Tuff-Stranger Cole's Toronto Roots (short)
  • Matthew Bate
    Shut Up Little Man, Sam Klemke's Time Machine, Summation of Force
  • Chris Flanagan
    Ruff and Tuff-Stranger Cole's Toronto Roots (short)
  • Matthew Bate (Executive Producer)
    Shut Up Little Man, Sam Klemke's Time Machine, Summation of Force
  • Herbie Miller (Executive Producer)
  • Sonia Godding Togobo
    Adopted ID, Mr Jane and Finch, In The Black Canada
  • Graeme Mathieson
    Ruff and Tuff, Stranger Cole's Toronto Roots, Rebel Lion.
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental
  • Genres:
    Music, adventure
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 27 minutes 8 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    March 18, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    50,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, Jamaica, United States
  • Language:
    English, Other
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Hot Docs (Top 10 Audience choice awards)
    Toronto, Ontario
    April 29, 2019
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Chris Flanagan

Chris Flanagan is an installation artist and documentary filmmaker. His documentary short Ruff and Tuff - Stranger Cole's Toronto Roots premiered at Hot Docs in 2018. He is currently developing a series of documentary shorts with collaborator Graeme Mathieson for the National Film Board of Canada.
As an artist he has exhibited in numerous artist-run and public galleries across Canada and Australia for more than 15 years. His art practice has also included composing original including a fabricated band and a film score for a small town. His compositions featured in Hannah Gadsby’s Oz a three part series on Australian Art.
Chris is also a DJ, record collector, and runs Shella Records, a record label dedicated to reissuing incredible lost Canadian Reggae music in partnership with the original artists.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

When I stumbled across a discarded thrift shop record in rural Ontario 10 years ago, I had no idea of the journey it would take me on.
The never ending quest to discover sounds, voices and stories I’ve never heard before is what keeps me hitting Flea Markets at dawn, keeping some strange company and spending far more than I can afford on pieces of round black plastic.

“Jamaican Fruit of African Roots” by Shella Record is one of those 1 in 10,000 songs that leaves you utterly floored. As an artist , obsessive record collector and Dj I have always searched for ways to to connect these passions within my visual arts practice. Haunted by her unique voice I knew I needed to drop everything and find out anything I could about this mystery diva Shella Record.

I had never made a documentary before and bought a cheap camera on Craigslist to document my search in Toronto. The name Shella Record was ungooglable-but surely with a voice like that she must have made other recordings! Was she Canadian, American, Jamaican, English, alive or dead?
It could have been a very short and simple search but as I began to dig I was faced with intrigue and confusion at every turn, making me even more determined to keep searching.

Hitting dead ends in Toronto I went on a local Reggae radio show playing the song on air hoping that someone might recognize Shella’s voice and call in. Off air a mysterious older gentleman with a Jamaican accent revealed that Shella Record was in fact a misprint of “Sheila Rickards” a Jamaican Jazz singer from the 1960s. Could it really be the same person? I had to go to Jamaica to find out. What followed was a search spanning more than 5 years across Jamaica, New York and Los Angeles, New Orleans and Mississippi.
This process was entirely self-funded, friends and my long-suffering partner Emily grabbed cameras and sound recorders and accompanied me across the world as I chased the next clue.

Friend and mentor Matthew Bate (Shut Up Little Man, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine) gave invaluable ongoing input, advice and support as did artist and documentary filmmaker Sameer Farooq (Silk Road of Pop). Eventually I was able to secure grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for a shoe string post-production budget to bring some paid professionals on board.

Art elements/aesthetic
It was always clear that this was mystery story and I played up elements of that intrigue and dark noir-ish aesthetic throughout.

These themes were strengthened through my creative recreations with actors which were used to give drama to an imagined scenario, recreate a scene I was unable to film or to seamlessly blend in with archival footage.

My background as an artist plays an essential role throughout the film through the integration of intricate models and silhouette puppets of me and several other important characters. They are whimsical and playful at times but can also be haunting and powerful as when engineer Newton Williams describes his anguish when his studio in Kingston Jamaica burned down.