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Award-Winning Filmmaker Rolla Selbak Premieres CHOKE at Outfest 2018

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Award-winning out filmmaker Rolla Selbak is world premiering her new short film, CHOKE, at the upcoming 2018 Los Angeles Outfest Film Festival – the world’s leading LGBT film festival presented by HBO.

CHOKE will screen as part of the “Emerging Voices” short program held on Saturday, July 21 at 8:00pm at the Harmony Gold Theater on Sunset Blvd. 

CHOKE tells the story of a successful MMA champion who hides her refugee identity from her small American town, and the world. Sara and her family are Muslim refugees who’ve escaped the vicious war in Syria and flee to the Unites States, where she fights for a new life in the brutal sport of mix martial arts. 

It stars Jessica Damouni (Salam),  Allison King (Baby Driver) and Victor Davila aka “master VIC” (MMA fighter & commentator for the UFC)

Selbak,  a Sundance 2017 filmmaker, tells the experience of what it feels like to immigrate from your home to a new place you’re trying to fit into, especially in today’s climate.

“It’s both a challenge and an honor to depict an authentic refugee experience truthfully and with creative empathy. Being an immigrant myself and being part of a Palestinian family, I feel that my personal experience lends itself to this intent in a powerful way,” says the filmmaker.

The central themes of identity, racism, homosexuality and fear are heightened by Sara’s struggle between modesty and boldness, aggression and repression, and oscillation between pride of who she is, and shame of where she came from.

The words “Muslim” and “immigrant” are so charged with electrifying heaviness in today’s environment. Just when we think the anti-immigrant sentiment has reached fever pitch in this country, the spikes of vicious rhetoric push the stakes higher.

Selbak’s ultimate goal was to tell a different kind of immigrant story, one that offers a counter-illustration to the depictions of brown women on the screen as the devout wife, or the unsuspecting terrorist, or depicting refugees as being weak and powerless instead of strong and resilient.

The MMA backdrop also provides for a really powerful element of symbolism: fighting for your life, fighting for who you are, fighting for identity. It also symbolizes overcoming adversity as Salam ironically excels in a heavily male-dominated professional field that is reputed to be very macho and homophobic. 

All in all, CHOKE is about identity, and the choices we make to hide parts of ourselves in order to survive.

Plans for developing CHOKE into a TV series are in full swing.

Rolla Selbak is a triple-minority in the filmmaking world, representing the Queer, the Muslim-American, and the Female.

Her most recent credits include co-producing American Paradise, a reflection of a desperate man in Trump’s America, and helming the internationally acclaimed feature film Three Veils, a first of its kind to confront homosexuality within the Muslim-American subculture.

A writer/director of film and TV drama, she is known for bringing strong female characters to the forefront of her work. She imprints her fresh point of view as a queer Arab immigrant having escaped to the U.S after the first Gulf War, and often focuses on socially controversial topics.

Celebrating its 36th Anniversary, Outfest is the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization promoting equality by creating, sharing, and protecting LGBTQ stories on the screen. 

With two thirds of this year’s content directed by women, people of color and trans filmmakers, Outfest Los Angeles once again brings together the highest quality of LGBTQ films in the world.

Watch Exclusive cast and director interviews:

Outfest 2018


CHOKE screens: Saturday, July 21, 2018 at 8:00 PM
Harmony Gold (7655 Sunset Boulevard | Los Angeles, CA 90046)
Screening followed by reception


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