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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

New scene from movie set in West Campus evokes nostalgia in Longhorns

Joshua Rush
American Spirit director Christopher Yates and producer Sabrina Zahir stand in front of West Campus Market, a filming location on Feb. 17, 2024.

Scrolling through X, Brenda Alvarez didn’t expect to see a clip of a movie set in West Campus on Film Updates, a popular account with over 800,000 followers.

“It just popped up on my feed … I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ because I immediately recognized the scenery, and it was a little bit jarring to see,” Alvarez said. “Film Updates is a pretty big account. I’ve seen them report for some of my favorite movies, like for Marvel. To see West Campus being represented on it, I (had) a sense of pride.”

Alvarez, a public health and human ecology senior, wasn’t alone — hundreds of UT students and alumni reacted to a scene from the upcoming movie “American Spirit,” where two high school exes reconnect outside of West Campus Market before walking to Jester. Reactions ranged from excited to humorously fearful at the prospect of being reminded of college experiences on the big screen.

“I didn’t expect it but it was certainly a great thing to see,” said Sabrina Zahir, “American Spirit” producer. “It was really cool to see the range of reactions as well. The nostalgia it brought for some people as well as funny little remarks.”

“American Spirit” is the first feature film from Zahir and director Christopher Yates, both alumni of UT’s radio-television-film program. Yates said “American Spirit” proved a big undertaking compared to his previous work in short films.

“We didn’t have any money. We didn’t have the resources to do (a feature film),” Yates said. “It just felt like it was time to move on to the next thing.” 

Yates said after the script received an initial positive reception, a casting director urged the team to expand the casting call from just Austin to include LA, where Yasmeen Fletcher (“Ms. Marvel”) and Cooper Roth (“Never Have I Ever”) landed the leading roles.

“I’m so pleased that we got to work with them because they’re two of the absolute best up-and-coming actors in Hollywood,” Yates said. “You’re gonna be hearing about them for years to come.”

Yates said he found it interesting that students assumed the film was produced by a random Hollywood executive rather than someone familiar with UT and West Campus. 

“The hyper specificity is what catches people off guard, like something that feels so mundane would be in a movie at all,” Yates said. “It’s not a big Hollywood movie, it’s an independent movie, but seeing that is something people aren’t used to.”

Through taking place at the University, the film’s setting provides a fitting environment to explore the characters’ emotions, Yates said.

“You obviously see college parties and things in films, but it’s never an intimate thing, it’s never about the conversations that happen or the relationships,” Yates said. “My goal was to tell this story with an emotional truth, which, to me, meant using my experience.”

Zahir said keeping independent stories like “American Spirit” accessible provides audiences with authenticity.

“To hear from independent voices … it’s so much more genuine,” Zahir said. “There’s a lot of organic genuineness in the way independent art can be made, and it’s important to be able to see that more broadly.”

Editor’s Note: The photo on this article originally incorrectly identified Sabrina Zahir as a co-producer, not the sole producer. The Texan regrets this error.

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About the Contributor
Rylie Lillibridge, Senior News Reporter
Rylie is a neuroscience and journalism double major from New Braunfels, Texas. Currently, she covers the research beat as a senior reporter. She was previously a general reporter during Summer 2022. In her free time, she likes going to hear live music.