Sarah Bahbah’s New Film Is “My First Healthy Love Story”
In her recently debuted short movie, I ____ YOU, photographer and music video director Sarah Bahbah looks at love through a filter of numbers. “Three words. Eight letters,” intones social media star Nailea Devora in the opening of the short, giving two ways to describe the phrase “I Love You.” Devora, who stars in I ____ You with model Stevan Journey, goes on to talk about the road that got her to the love story depicted in the film. “Approximately seven heartbreaks and 463 nights of tears soaking into my living room carpet, not even my pillow, I could not even make it that far. More people are heartbroken than they are a whole. I was one of them.”
Other numbers pop up throughout. “I knew 67 days in. who am I kidding? I was actually 9,” says Devora, adding later that the couple, “Lavished in 12 bottles of wine.”
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Courtesy of Sarah Bahbah
Prior to making this film, Bahbah gained a social media following herself (with 1.1 million followers on Instagram) for her series of cinematic, gorgeously shot photoshoots that depict love stories that didn’t last. In one of those photo sets, titled Fool Me Twice, 13 Reasons Why star Alisha Boe and actor Noah Centineo (Black Adam, To All The Boys franchise) play a couple whose relationship ends, leaving Boe’s character with the realization that, “This isn’t a man who loved you. This is a man who loved his need for you.” Dylan Sprouse (After We Collided) also appeared in one of Bahbah’s photo essays, This is Not For You Part II.
Bahbah’s first short film though represents a departure from those earlier projects. It’s “my first healthy love story,” Bahbah tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Over the past seven years I’ve strictly been writing from a place of pain and suffering and I really leaned into my art as an outlet to heal from my experiences and my traumas.”
The new movie is an outgrowth of a change in her own life. “Last year, I started dating this beautiful, honest, gentle, loving man and developed a very intimate loving relationship and it felt quite healthy. I wanted to be able to challenge myself to write from a place of love rather than pain,” says the director-photographer.
Bahbah says she wrote the film’s script by hand in a journal at a park in Los Angeles, the city she calls home. Many of the lines she wrote ended up including numbers, a concrete way of looking at and reckoning with the vulnerable affairs of the heart. “I essentially landed on a bunch of numbers,” she says. The overall idea of the film she describes as “wanting to encapsulate the ambivalence of wanting to say, ‘I love you,’ first but fearing being rejected. I call it heart exposure.”
Courtesy of Sarah Bahbah
Devora tells THR she was attracted to making the film because “I’ve always had an appreciation and love for film and always dreamt of being a part of it in any capacity but growing up in Texas and living under certain circumstances it seemed out of my reach. When Sarah reached out to me and mentioned this project, I was ecstatic. I’ve always been a huge fan of her work and her storytelling. She’s a brilliant and empowering woman in this space.”
The photographer-director shot the entire short in two half-day shoots back in January at a mansion with baroque decor known on wedding rental sites as the Palisades Villa. She completed post-production in two weeks.
Bahbah — who recently signed with M88 and UNCMMN for representation, and has previously directed three music videos for Kygo — was represented by an art gallery a few years back. But in 2017 she adopted a different model in which she engages directly with fans of her work through her Instagram account.
Courtesy of Sarah Bahbah
“I started representing myself and just releasing signed limited-edition prints and they started doing really well,” says Bahbah. Notably, she instituted what she calls a “pay what they can” pricing scale of $50 to $300 for the prints. “I recognized that I had a lot of followers who were making a low income and were students and were studying and a lot of the requests I got were, ‘Can you please make your art more affordable? I really want it on my wall.’ That was my solution — to give everyone more people an opportunity to collect my art,” says Bahbah, who is of Palestinian and Jordanian descent and was raised in Australia.
For I ____ YOU, Bahbah pulled stills from the film from which she made limited-edition prints which were on sale for one week. “I do open editions for a week and then by the end of the week, it’s capped,” she says of her sales model. In the near future, she also hopes to develop a television show.
Bahbah — who also runs a creative agency, Possy — says the most satisfying part of making her short film was that “I was able to challenge myself and evolve as an artist because when you lean into hurt and pain it can very exhausting to go create art. I ended up coming out of this feeling a lot healthier and not as exhausted obviously. I felt quite grounded and that’s new for me.”