May 27, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

“Choke” Takes on Queer Boxing at Outfest

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 & UFC Spanish commentator)

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.

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