From Precocious Set Designer to the Tribeca Film Festival

The directing/producing bug bites young. Just ask Sahhara Assafiri, a Woodbury alumna and recent producing fellow at the American Film Institute (AFI).

“I grew up knowing that I wanted to make movies,” she recalls. “When I was little, I would move my grandma’s furniture around her house, recreating sets from “The Lion King” or “Aladdin.” Then I’d dress my cousins up as different characters and direct them. We’d do the scenes over and over again until I was satisfied with their performance.”

Being an auteur is hardly child’s play, so what turned this youthful pursuit into a life’s passion? “When it came time to go to college I thought long and hard about my lifelong dream and whether it would be a realistic path to pursue,” Sahhara says. “I came to the conclusion that I truly couldn’t see myself giving 100 percent to anything other than filmmaking.” With her parents’ support and the imagination that had served her so well to that point, she dove into film school.

Woodbury proved to be the right choice. “I always felt very encouraged,” she says. “It was comfortable to try new things with my storytelling. Since class settings are so small, it felt like a one-on-one for most of the time, which was really great because I love to ask questions.” With guidance from her professors, Sahhara was able to determine exactly what aspect of filmmaking best fit her interests and aptitude. In 2015, she completed her BFA in Filmmaking with a minor in Communication.

Life after graduation appears to have affirmed her aspirations. She left Burbank and made the short trip to AFI in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, where, en route to the MFA she received in December, she became a producing fellow. “It was like being thrown into the ultimate film school boot camp for a little over two years,” she says. “The first year, I produced four short films, and crewed almost every weekend that I wasn’t shooting, not to mention the classes and demanding deadlines for them. Filmmaking consumed my life, but that’s exactly what I had signed up for.”

The following summer she produced another short, which went on to premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. While at AFI, she served as a producer on an AFI Director’s Workshop for Women short film called “Joy Joy Nails.” More recently, she interned at Village Roadshow and is currently an intern at Whitewater Films.

So what might you find in a Sahhara Assafiri film? Surrealism. Fantasy. Love. Or perhaps all three, especially when blended with sci-fi –- and even better if the action occurs in space. “I love that you can break rules and create your own [rules] with sci-fi, giving the imagination the ultimate freedom,” she says. A fan of both Christopher Nolan and Stanley Kubrick, Sahhara describes Alex Garland –- writer/director of “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina” –- as “really refreshing… I enjoy his beautiful visuals as well as the tone of his films, and the way they straddle the line between the real and the experimental.”

Ultimately, Sahhara sees producing as her calling. As she says, “nothing feels more rewarding than finding a story, putting a team together, and being a part of every detail to bring it to life.”

Learn more about the Filmmaking program