Award-winning lesbian filmmaker Rolla Selbak is premiering her short film Choke at Outfest Film Festival. 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, Sara, 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 fled to the United States.
A perfect nutshell of some of the most frightening themes we are seeing with the rise of the alt-right in America, the film portrays xenophobia, racism, and homophobia weighing on Sara. Sara struggles between modesty and boldness, aggression and repression, pride and shame, taking it all out in the ring.
Selbak’s inspiration came from her own immigrant experience, “I really wanted to write an immigrant story where the character was quite literally fighting for who they were. I also wanted to show a refugee character that had power, and show the other side of how resilient you have to be to make it in a country that is not your own. I also loved the idea of the irony that from feeling disconnected from the home she left, and not feeling welcome in the new home she found, her only freedom is in the cage.”
Mixed martial arts is a good frame for the story, and an authentic one for Selbak, who has trained in Aikido, Taikwando, Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu.
The short film is in development as a TV series. Selbak says it “focuses Sara’s rise to fame within the brutal sport of MMA, while she and her family survive being undocumented in America. It also follows her love life as she hides her sexual identity from those around her. Sara’s loyalty is constantly tested towards the family that needs her, the girlfriend who has captivated her, the trainer who is driving her, and the sport that’s transforming her.”
Taking her influence from Jill Soloway and Ava DuVernay, Choke the TV series would be a desperately needed and powerful representation of life as a lesbian/immigrant/woman of color.