Rolla Selbak is an award winning filmmaker who grew up in the Middle East and is currently based in San Francisco, where she is part of the San Francisco Women’s Film Institute Leadership council.
Rolla’s work includes the film “Three Veils,” which tells the story of three Middle-Eastern women living in the U.S. as they face issues such as arranged marriage, homosexuality and love.
Her newest project, “Kiss Her I’m Famous,” is a satirical story about two friends attempting to achieve fame by creating a celebrity sex tape. The Real L Word’s Tracy Ryerson and The Violent Kind’s Ilea Matthews star in this web series, which can be viewed on tellofilms.com.
Please view the trailer below:
In our interview, Rolla discusses her inspiration for “Kiss Her I’m Famous,” the challenges she faced in filming “Three Veils,” her favorite female directors and more.
How did you become interested in filmmaking?
My love affair with movies began when I was a young girl in the Middle East. My parents would take me to the video rental store once a week, and I would just watch and study movie after movie all weekend long.
I never went to film school. My self-education began in middle school with my close relationship to the family-VHS recorder that I hijacked for making my short films.
Something about movies just completely enthralled me. I would get lost in the stories, and the characters especially. My dream was to be able to create the thing that I loved most. So, here I am.
What inspired you to make your web series, Kiss Her I’m Famous? What has the reaction been like so far?
Nowadays, gratuity and fake publicity seem to be able to catapult just about anyone into the spotlight, so I wrote the series as a satire that tackles the phenomenon in smart and entertaining way.
With a subject such as sex tapes, I could have gone really over the top, but in the end, I believe it’s the story that grabs audiences, even if the content is primarily consumed through the web. So it was very important for me to create characters that were interesting and a story that had a compelling arch.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception so far! I really couldn’t have envisioned the trailer alone gaining 2 million views. And teaming up with TelloFilms.com as an exclusive network distributor has been a fantastic experience. So much so, that we’re teaming up again for Season 2!
In your film Three Veils, you explore often emotionally charged experiences such as arranged marriage and homosexuality as they are experienced by Muslim-American women. What was the most challenging part of making this film?
The whole project was a challenge, from beginning to end, but I was always determined to push through for the sake of bringing these stories to the screen. As you mentioned, it was an ambitious attempt to bring forth many subjects that hadn’t been touched upon in film, and so boycotts of fundraisers, financiers dropping, and even death-threats were not a rare occurrence.
Once the film was out of my hands and started making its way to audiences, that’s when I knew it was all worth it. The unbelievable outpouring of people connecting with the film, finding themselves in the characters and stories, or even being shown a point of view they hadn’t empathized with before, means everything to me.
And by and large, the amount of positive support definitely outweighs any negativity or controversy surrounding the film. I couldn’t be more thankful about that.
Do you think the film has helped create more of a dialogue about these issues?
I certainly would like to think so, judging from the fervent discussions at the screenings. I still get emails and messages from people who were affected by the film because of something they themselves have went through, or a family member or a friend.
Giving audiences a film to connect with that tells them, “your story is shared by others, and is now being told to the world” is the single most important goal for me with Three Veils.
As a part of the Women’s Film Institute Leadership council, you have been working to support young female filmmakers. What has this experience been like for you?
It’s been extremely fulfilling to empower these young, exceptionally talented filmmakers with the guidance and encouragement I would have loved to have years ago when I was in their position.
I feel that through such initiatives and programs, we will hopefully have an influx of brilliant, capable and proficient female filmmakers in the field, pushing content to a whole new level.
In addition to directing, you also write music for your films. What is your creative process like?
Music is so essential to my creative process. Even if I’m not composing music for a film project I’m working on, I will construct a playlist that fits the emotion of an important scene, and have that music playing in the background while I write or edit.
What are some of your favorite films by female directors?
Ooh, I love when people ask me that! I would say Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow are my favs. I love Kathryn’s rhythm and pace of storytelling, it’s so compelling to me. And Jane always makes such beautiful film. I binge-watched her most recent series “Top of The Lake” in 2 days, it was riveting.
In what ways is your work feminist?
In every way possible, lol! I feel that just me existing in this male-dominated industry, and being very vocal about my experiences, and the work I do with emboldening our young female filmmakers out there, the spirit of my work will always resonate was being feminist, and I would have it no other way.
Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
I would say study films meticulously. Focus specifically on what you like, and what you don’t like about them. Write what you yourself would find compelling as an audience member, don’t worry about appeasing anyone other than yourself. You will find an audience if your voice is true, and your criticism of yourself is honest. And never let fear stop you. Just go out and do it. Then do it again. And do it better.
I also host a monthly live Spreecast called Grrl’s Guide To Filmmaking, where I interview influential women in the film industry. The idea is for aspiring filmmakers to get free and fun advice from the women who are making it happen. You can find out more information at http://www.grrlsguidetofilmmaking.com.
-Strike & Sem