The Champion by Patrick McGowan and Brett Garamella

A former Iraqi boxing champion overcomes tremendous hardships as he builds a bond with his family and taxi customers in Chicago.

Estaifan Shilaita drives a cab in Chicago. But once upon a time, he was a boxing champion in Iraq. Still, despite his success in the ring, his Christian faith prevented him from representing his country on an international stage.

Facing persecution for his religion, Shilaita fled Iraq in 1976 for Greece to pursue his boxing dream. With his family’s blessing, he left behind four brothers, four sisters and his parents. Ultimately, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 for “a better life and religious freedom.”

This fascinating documentary traces the turns and twists that he took from Iraq to the U.S., where he arrived to be with the woman he loved. Well-paced and sharply photographed, it’s also the portrait of a likable, engaging man who has created an equally warm and appreciative family around himself, beginning with his wife.

Shot over the course of several years, “The Champion” has an authentic emotional heart, resulting in a warm, genuine film with an eternal message about the primacy and power of family.

“I tell my kids, this is the land of the opportunity to be anything you want,” Shilaita added. “Everyday I’m blessed. I say to my family, ‘God bless America.'”




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