Alumni film challenges, Islamophobia in US

Pierson Hawkins

In the past year, rising Islamophobic rhetoric in the United States has spawned an increase of nonviolent protests on campus and around Austin. Screenwriter Yasir Masood and director Quoc Huynh — both UT alumni — answered with “The Last Hunt,” which will premiere at Austin Film Festival in late October as part of an Everything’s Shorter in Texas program.

“The Last Hunt” follows Mohammed, an American immigrant clerk whose gas station is robbed and whose memories of his family in Pakistan help him to survive. The film is based off the a true story of Masood’s grandfather, who was shot during a convenience store burglary.

“(My grandfather’s) resilience, strength and the fact that he lived because of something he learned in Pakistan really stood out to me,” Yasir said. “I feel a lot of the American dream is alive because of what (immigrants) know from back home.”

Yasir, who wrote and stars in the film, was also inspired by the experience of being a first generation immigrant himself. The filmmaker hopes his short will offer a new perspective to non-immigrant audiences and shed new light on concepts such as what it means to be an American.

“We only see (immigrants) in the context of our lives. But a lot of the goal of this movie was to open that up and show that these people are human and these people have stories,” Yasir said. “They have love, they experience heartbreak, they have kids and they have joy.”

Yasir’s brothers, Nabeel and Haris, also play his on-screen brothers. Yasir chose to write them in a way that reflected their own personalities, making it natural for the non-actors. Nabeel expressed his inspiration from his father, a first-generation immigrant who struggled to make a better life for his family in America.

“There would be weekends where we would be with our family, and our father would get a call and be out the door — and there was no complaining about it,” Nabeel said. “In order for us to have anything, to have any opportunities, we have to hustle.”

Yasir added that his father’s experiences also helped motivate him to make the film.

“I was working 50 hours a week while writing and producing this movie,” Yasir said. “I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t see what a 10 hour, 12 hour, 16 hour work day looked like.”

Visually, “The Last Hunt” strives to make viewers uncomfortable. Director Huynh chose to use lighting techniques to differentiate the American convenience store and the Pakistani desert. In one scene, the camera lands on an image of young, Muslim men equipped with guns, only for the viewer to find out later they are on a family hunting trip.

“We wanted to play into those fears that Americans have of brown people. We want (audiences) to second guess this guy’s intentions,” said Huynh. “We wanted to make America the uncomfortable part of his life, and we wanted to make his home in Pakistan this beautiful landscape.”

The UT alumni also expressed their excitement for being able to shoot Texas, and stressed the importance of Austin’s ever growing artistic community.

“Making a movie is all about deceiving, turning a script into something real and authentic,” Huynh said. “I learned how to do that in UT, and I had the people to do it in Austin.”

“The Last Hunt” will be screened at this year’s Austin Film Festival on Friday, Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m. The young filmmakers also voice their pride in making it into AFF, one of the largest film festivals in the nation, to some disbelief.

“As an artist, you’re always wondering if you’re a pretender. To get into something like this, it’s really validating,” Huynh said. “It helps you realize that everyone’s a pretender, and everyone is out here sticking their neck out.”