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ROME — Pete Shilaimon is one of the many Iraqis who had to abandon his homeland in order to live his faith without having to hide. Today, he is the executive producer of the upcoming film Risen, soon to be released in theaters.
Aleteia recently sat down with Pete in Rome, ahead of the film’s screening in the Vatican.
In part I of our interview, the producer speaks openly about his faith in Jesus; what makes Risen different from other biblical epics and why working on a film that explores the first 40 days after the Resurrection of Christ through the eyes of a Rome tribune, was the “most incredible” experience he’s had as a producer.
Be sure to catch part II of our interview with Pete Shilaimon this Friday, February 19 — the day Risen debuts in theaters worldwide — to learn more about his personal story and the dramatic and moving circumstances that led his family to flee Iraq.
Diane Montagna: Congratulations on the film, and thank you for speaking to Aleteia readers. I’d like to begin our interview by asking you: Who is Jesus for you?
Pete Shilaimon: That’s a very, very easy, easy answer: everything.
I came here from a different country. I came to America from a different country, so all we had was faith. All we had was God and Jesus. So for me, growing up with Jesus around 24/7 was second nature. So to me, it’s everything: it’s life, it’s breath. So that’s an easy question.
Why Risen? What makes this film different from other biblical epics we’ve seen thus far?
I think, for me, when I read the script, the difference was telling it from the point of view of Clavius, who is the Roman tribue that goes out and looks for the Messiah. To me, telling it from that perspective was very interesting. You’ve never seen it from that perspective. So to me, it resonated, and I knew I had to work on this picture. I knew I had to be a part of this film somehow. So I begged and begged: “Let me be on set. Let me go on to work on this film.” And the boss said basically, “Go for it.” And I went on set and produced it. And it was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had as a producer.
Why? What made it different from other films you’ve worked on?
I grew up on these stories. I grew up on the stories of the crucifixion, grew up on the resurrection. My family … we’re very Catholic, you know. So growing up with these stories, they were almost fantasy, and to actually work on one was pretty spectacular.
I’ve been interviewed before, and they’ve asked me many questions, but the one thing about this movie is I felt, at times, that I was Clavius on that rock. There were many times in my life when I had so much doubt, I had questions, and I wanted to know answers. And no one really gave me those answers. The only time I’d find answers is when I spoke to Jesus. So to me, when I sat there and watched Cliff Curtis, who played Yeshua, and Joseph, who played Clavius, on that rock, it was one of the most incredible moments, being in that desert and watching that interaction, because I was Clavius, and I had that conversation with Jesus.
Watch Aleteia’s exclusive interview with Joseph Fiennes here.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.