TBB Talks To … Filmmaker Rhea Storr

Rhea Storr is a filmmaker renowned for her unique visual aesthetic and vibrant documentation of masquerade culture in the Bahamas.

One of her most recent projects Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical is currently being showcased as part of Ekow Eshun’s IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC exhibition at BFI Southbank.

In this insightful conversation with The British Blacklist, Rhea spoke about the cultural significance of Junkanoo and the nuanced intentions behind her filmmaking.

Please introduce yourself…

I am an artist filmmaker whose work thinks about the representation of Black and mixed-race cultures. Much of my work has explored the politics of masquerade. I often work with analogue 16mm film and I am interested in how photochemical film can be an intentional choice for Black filmmakers. I currently co-direct an artist worker’s co-operative called ‘not nowhere’ in London. It is Black/POC-led and provides artists with the tools they need to create shoot and develop analogue films.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now?

A time for reflection on the past few years.

How did your involvement IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC at BFI Southbank come about?

I presented Here Is the Imagination Of The Black Radical in another show An Infinity Of Traces also curated by Ekow Eshun at Lisson Gallery. I enjoyed our conversation around Afrofuturism at the time. One of the central themes of Here Is The Imagination Of The Black Radical is that Afrofuturism doesn’t descend into fantasy only: for Black communities, these imaginative forms of artistic production often come about as a political resistance or a response to oppression.

In The Black Fantastic at

Your film Here Is The Imagination Of The Black Radical captures the beauty of Junkanoo and the deep societal discussions that have been birthed and preserved in The Bahamas. When did you decide to document the Shell Saxons Superstars and how long did it take to bring them to life?

As an event, Junkanoo happens on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Historically these are some of the only times that the enslaved would have had time off. Today groups such as the Saxons (a highly regarded ‘A’ group competitor) start considering their theme, costumes and choreography for the next year almost as soon as the parade has finished on New Year’s Day of the previous year. There is a lot of labour for a comparatively short event. I wanted to capture this excess of labour which goes far beyond something which makes money or a hobby. With a large amount of footage, I edited the film over the course of about a year, literally hours of footage which didn’t make the final 10-minute film!

Diaspora often struggle to maintain a connection with their ‘motherland’ due to geographical and cultural distance, however your work always explores a deep understanding of your heritage. How have you managed to stay so connected to your Bahamian roots?

The subtext of this question is often a challenge which asks a person to prove that their experience is ‘authentic’ or that they have authority to speak from the position that they are portraying. There are a lot of times I am outside of Bahamian culture, but there are also many times I am apart from British culture too. Although living in London I am disconnected from the environment and physical space of the Bahamas, I am able to connect with family, cook Bahamian foods, learn ways of speaking or storytelling and learn more about Junkanoo by listening to local radio/tv stations online.

Whilst Bahamian carnival culture (Junkanoo) is widely revered and beloved throughout the Caribbean islands, your work has brought it to an audience who would otherwise have been unaware of its existence. I’ve heard you speak in the past about seeking to avoid a fetishization of the community your work depicts. How do you internally navigate this unintentional consequence of introducing culture into a new space?

In every film that I make I am thinking about the position from which I am speaking and the position of the audience. I never want to fetishize the culture I am depicting or to put the audience in a position where they have power over that community- i.e. they are watching as voyeurs. It is important to me to avoid letting Junkanoo get subsumed into an audience’s understanding of carnival in Britain. I try to position the audience by the way that the film is shot, not quite revealing everything.

Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical

Despite the systemic barriers which seek to marginalise and discredit Black and Mixed-race voices, your work has consistently communicated your lived experience so beautifully. Have there ever been moments where you have felt jaded by the expectation you put on yourself to this type of art?

I often put my own experiences into a film (and sometimes my own body) in order to communicate a particular point of view. It is quite a vulnerable position to be in. For instance, I feel that I must qualify my perspective in a way that is not necessary for a white British male. At the same time, I want to see my perspective on film and that is what motivates me. What I find more difficult is the expectations of others who have the power to show, engage and write about my work. They can dismiss your work because it communicates a point of view around Blackness or being mixed-race that they might not have expected and for which they have no prior reference point.

The unique aesthetic of your film has drawn many people to your work over the years, but I believe that its true value is the legacy it will leave of documenting cultural events from a thoughtful, unapologetic viewpoint. How important do you think it is for people from the community (like yourself) to be able to shape and capture its true narrative in film?

Very important! I try to consider a complex or nuanced narrative. I want the audience to be active, ask questions about the work and piece together the images that I am showing for themselves. The form is also very important in defining how something is said (or not said). I often use quick cuts and edits. I want to keep the audience on their toes!

Much of your work is captured in 16mm film, what is it specifically about this style of film that appeals to your artistic message?

16mm film requires a different form of production than digital. It’s been used as both an amateur and professional film gauge, for feature films and a more DIY aesthetic. You have to wait to see the final images and the subjects of your film also can’t see their images straight away. Film is getting more and more expensive and I find it a healthy challenge to be meticulous about what I shoot before I shoot it – almost as if I am questioning what I value most before I shoot the film- very different to the almost never-ending possibilities of digital. 16mm blends in with archive film -I like confusing time- making an audience question the narrative that they’re seeing, especially seeing as Black narratives are often mis-told by white directors.

Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical

There’s a beautiful irony in the synopsis of your film Here Is The The Imagination Of The Black Radical which reads: “Its mission is to communicate an incommunicability. Knowledge that is enacted or performed to which film cannot do justice.” Are you continuously in search of communicating this knowledge through film or do you see the intention of your film’s sparking a desire in the audience to experience culture first-hand?

A little of both! I think there is something which an image can’t quite convey. I want to signpost or give space to an experience even if I am not quite able to tell it. An image is never going to exactly replicate an experience, so I want to be honest about that. Also, there are some events which shouldn’t be directly imaged and some histories which have been deliberately lost in the oppression of Black peoples.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

A book you have to have in your collection? The Black Aesthetic by Addison Gayle

A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Ibeyi’s self-titled album. I’m also obsessed with the soundtrack to Koracrit Arunanondchai’s ‘Painting with History in a Room Filled With People With Funny Names 3.’

A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Succession- the storylines are gripping and it’s shot on film.

The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Carnival Messiah at West Yorkshire Playhouse. I was so taken by the scale and colour of the costumes.

What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad: Gross inequality and poor governance. Mad: Roe v Wade was overturned in the US. Glad: the small things, going on photography walks.


Curated by Ekow Eshun, IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC runs concurrently at BFI Southbank throughout July and at the Hayward Gallery 29th June – 18th September. Ekow Eshun’s Thames & Hudson book, IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC is available now.

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