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Local featured in film festival

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POLSON – Elias Nawawieh hasn’t always lived a few blocks from Flathead Lake, but he was referred to as one of the few local filmmakers to have a film in the 2015 Flathead Lake International Cinemafest.

His film “Victory In Christ” is about Middle Eastern Christians suffering from the actions of the terrorist group ISIS. He decided to make the film along with support from a few other developers after hearing the stories about the refugees. Nawawieh is a Palestinian Christian. He filmed the documentary in Amman, Jordan, and Iraq.

Nawawieh ended up in Polson after marrying Katie Rowold. She grew up in Polson and is currently a high school music teacher. She visited Bethlehem more than five years ago and met Nawawieh. The couple shares an interest in helping people through the Christian church. He jokes that he agreed to move to Polson after visiting in the summer months.

“It only snows one day a year where I’m from,” he said adding that he is getting used to the snow. He thanks the community for welcoming him as a foreigner. 

Nawawieh attended film school in Jerusalem at the Kings School of Media. He learned editing skills, how to work with a camera and production methods. He went on to work with organizations like National Geographic and several other big name media outlets. He also photographed Palestinian and Israeli conflicts for news sources. 

He started working on “Victory In Christ” at the beginning of 2015 to help people understand what was happening to the Arab Christians.

“Many think that Arab Christians converted to Christianity,” he said explaining that this group of Christians began about 2,000 years ago. He also explained that Muslims weren’t to blame for what is happening to the refugees. “Not all Muslims are like that.”

When he started filming, his subjects shared horrible stories of people being kidnapped by ISIS, families being killed, and people escaping death.

“I met a 14-year-old girl,” he said. “She was traumatized. She was afraid to leave the house. ISIS had killed her father, mother, sister, and brother.”

Nawawieh said he had to find a greater purpose to help him continue the interviews when it got too hard to hear the stories.

“It’s very important to get the message out, to tell the story, to be their voice,” he said. 

Nawawieh is traveling through the United States to share the film. It was voted Best Documentary at the 2015 Annual 168 Film Festival in California. Although, he said, not everyone wanted to see the film focused on Arabic Christian refugees.

“Some people just don’t want to hear about it,” he said. “But it’s really about helping people.”

The documentary will be shown on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. Nawawieh plans to host a question and answer session after the film. 

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