“I remember going to a little grocery stand with my mother,” says Pete Shilaimon.

“…My mom was wearing a cross around her neck, and somehow it slipped out from her collar so that the storekeeper could see it. As we were walking home, my mom had some stones thrown at her.”

Shilaimon, co-producer of the film RISEN, talked with me last month about his childhood growing up in Iraq. After that incident, he recalled, his mother was careful to wear a hijab when going out in public. “She really buttoned up and took that very seriously,” Pete said.

“…She felt that that had happened because some of the people saw that she was a believer. That had never happened until that time.”

The Shilaimon family lived a secret life in Iraq, hiding their Christian faith from their neighbors, for several more years.  Then when Pete was nearly six years old, the family escaped to Greece. Three years later, on what Pete described as “the happiest day of our lives,” they were granted permission to come to the United States as refugees.

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Fast forward to 2016, and Pete Shilaimon is grown; for nearly six years he’s worked with Mickey Liddell, running Liddell’s production company LD Entertainment. Pete’s father died of a heart attack ten years ago; but his mother remains with him and is, Pete told me, “the love of his life. She and my father sacrificed everything to keep their kids safe.”

Pete’s mom is so proud of the work he’s doing on the film RISEN. At the time of our interview, Pete was looking forward to traveling to Rome in early February, where the film would be screened for Vatican officials and where he hoped to have an opportunity to meet Pope Francis.

“I am a Catholic,” professed Shilaimon.

“I wear a cross around my neck. I go to church with my family whenever I can. You know, my mom says ‘come to church with me.’ There are times when I can go, and times when I can’t. But I’m always proud to be a Catholic. I am a believer, a Catholic–and I’ll never not be a Catholic.”

Shilaimon was proud of the film, too. He described the project as a detective story. “Think of it,” he said,

“it’s like a complete CSI episode! Clavius is searching everywhere, trying to find a corpse or anything that would lead him to Jeshua. You see him in his chambers, pondering the situation, formulating his next steps. How can he find evidence so that he can get Jeshua for Pilate?”

RISEN was Pete Shilaimon’s ninth or tenth film; but he was energized by the project. “I am such a fan of this film,” he admitted,

“…not just because I worked on it, but because it made me embrace my faith even more, to be brutally honest with you.”

Pete divulged that every time he walked out of a screening of the movie RISEN, he felt so light and happy. “There’s something that happens,” he explained,

“…People across the board experience that. I think their silence as they leave the theater is reflective.  At some level, they have a warm and happy feeling.”

Shilaimon revealed that during the filming, he’d developed a close friendship with Joseph Fiennes (Clavius) and with Tom Felton (Clavius’ assistant Lucius), as well as with Mary Botto, who played Mary Magdalene. “They were all so incredible!” Shilaimon exclaimed. During their filming, he said, there was not a single glitch that happened because of the cast. Oh, there would be weather delays, or occasions when they couldn’t film a scene because the costumes weren’t made the right way, or times when they needed more extras. The stifling heat during the day meant that make-up artists had to wipe away sweat and retouch make-up after every single take, and the cold nights brought their own challenges; but the cast and crew faced these challenges with gusto.

As Shilaimon looked ahead to the February 19 opening day, he was enthusiastic about the early feedback he’d heard about the film. But with only one hour and 47 minutes in which to tell the story, there was much footage that had to be cut; and Shilaimon predicted that a second film could be made. At least, he expected, there would be a DVD package which incorporated another 20 minutes or more of footage which was not included in the theater release. “It’s a big story,” he said, “and there’s so much to tell in a short period of time.”

If the opening weekend results are any indication, Shilaimon’s confidence in the film appears to be well founded. The film grossed $11.8 million in its first three days, coming in third in box office results behind Deadpool and Kung Fu Panda 3.

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Joseph Fiennes in Risen

In case you missed it:  Check out my interview with Joseph Fiennes, who plays the role of Clavius, in the National Catholic Register.

Image  L/R: Pete Shilaimon, Maria Botta (Mary Magdalene), Joseph Fiennes (Clavius), and Mickey Liddell with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Photo courtesy of Carmel Communications.