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Eric Roache’s film “Sublimate” takes an intimate look at healing from trauma

[TW: This article and embedded video contain references to sexual assault]

The poster for Eric Roache’s “Sublimate,” which stars Morgan Pavey and Timothy Huls.

Eric Roache, a Maryland native and filmmaker currently living in Vietnam, makes movies that convey the central themes of humanity, compassion, and understanding. His latest work, “Sublimate,” imparts these motifs and more, using the medium of film to explore empathy and provide a lens that peers into the worlds and inner lives of other people.

Sublimate, a short film, is just over 15 minutes long. Its synopsis is similarly brief: “A young woman gets unexpected help overcoming a traumatic experience from a mysterious stranger.” But what unfolds within the story is much more than a one-sentence logline might indicate.

The film, which features a woman (played by Morgan Pavey) recovering from a sexual assault, is “not so much about the act of sexual assault, but about healing and empathy,” according to Roache. The story was his way of contributing to the national dialogue that currently surrounds sexual violence in America, a response to the #metoo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

Roache said he wanted to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, which is why he sought to make a short film not about the event of a sexual assault and the “he said, she said” that tends to permeate public discourse surrounding it, but about the physical and emotional experiences that survivors endure.

“It was a hard film to write and shoot because it is such a sensitive topic,” he said. “I wanted to get the balance right while trying my best not to alienate anyone watching the film, man or woman.”

Roache is an independent filmmaker who was born and raised in Bowie, MD, and spent many summers and New Years holidays in Ocean City, where much of his family lives today. His filmmaking career began when he 35 years old and living in San Fransisco, CA.

“I always wanted to share my lens on the world by making my own films,” he said. “It just took me a while to get the confidence to do it.”

Roache’s filmmaking focuses on intimate character portraits, because the more you can understand and relate to a character, he says, the more you compassion you can have for them, no matter what they’ve done or experienced. 

In Sublimate, he hopes that viewers who may not have experienced sexual assault firsthand might think about the experience in a new way, and have a more empathetic outlook on how the experience affects victims. 

“We focus so much on judgment and punishment, which is more likely to force people into taking sides and debating the details of what happened,” he said. “My goal with the film was to take the focus off of judgment or defining assault and put it completely on the experience and feelings of the victim.”

Sublimate was shot in San Fransisco over the span of two-and-a-half days, and Roache only had four weeks in the city to plan, cast, produce, and shoot the film before he headed back overseas. The project’s budget was $1,500, with most of the money going toward the actors.

Still photo from “Sublimate.”

Roache recently started writing his first feature film, which he says will be his most personal film to date. 

“The film will be about manhood, and the negative and invalidating effect cultural expectations and perceptions of men can have on men who do not fit neatly into those boxes,” he said.

The upcoming project will delve deeper into the themes of Sublimate, exploring the long-term effects of childhood sexual assault on young boys, and what that means for survivors’ identities as adult men.

Roache has never filmed anything in Ocean City, he said, although he’d like to someday in the future. 

“I was inspired watching the film “Ping Pong Summer,” and the way it captured the feeling I had as a kid visiting OC in the summers.”

“Sublimate” will be screened at the Ocean City Film Festival on Saturday, March 9 at the Fox Gold Coast Theater.

The film is featured in an 11 a.m. block of Social Commentary Short Films, which also includes “For Your Consideration,” about two artists and a viral Harvey Weinstein statue, “Driving Miss Saudi,” inspired by Saudi Arabia lifting its ban on women drivers in 2018, “Trafficked in Paradise,” about the relationship between prostitution and sex trafficking, “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever,” a response to the current racial tension in America, and “Final Refrain,” which depicts a dystopian world where art and music are forbidden.

Photos courtesy of Eric Roache.

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