Documentary about former Iraqi interpreter, now US citizen and Minnesotan, earns Emmy nomination

Jessica Miles
Updated: September 20, 2020 11:12 PM
Created: September 20, 2020 09:34 PM

Sitting outside his home in the north metro with his family. Khalid "Phillip" Awda is enjoying life in Minnesota as a U.S. citizen.

"There is no comparing ... there is no comparing, first of all my life is safe which is a high priority for me, my family is safe," he said.

We've shared his story, and this reunion back in 2013 at Minneapolis St. Paul International airport.

While deployed to Basra, Iraq in 2009 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sgt. Paul Braun worked with Awda, who served as an interpreter for U.S. forces.

"He ended up saving our lives, he saved the lives of our team, and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be speaking with you today," Braun said.

After U.S. troops left, Awda's life was in constant jeopardy.

"Phillip's family was under death threats from the militia's for his service helping us as American soldiers," Braun said.

It took years and a lot of effort by many different people, but after arriving in Minnesota in 2013, his story sparked national attention, and soon a documentary crew wanted to follow him.

He was then living with Braun and his family, waiting patiently for his own family to arrive in Minnesota from Iraq, something that would take another three years.

In 2018 their film, "The Interpreters," was released, and quickly gained top honors at multiple major film festivals.

Last fall it aired on PBS as part of the Veteran's Day programming and has now been nominated for an Emmy for outstanding politics and government documentary.

"We're very honored that the story can be shared so it can shed light on how interpreters are handled and treated after their service to our nation is done," Braun said.

For Awda, it's not a matter of winning or losing an award.

"If our documentary won the award or not, we still have made huge progress," he said.

Huge progress toward raising awareness to what he has done, and what others have done, too — many who are still waiting for their visas to come to the United States for safety.

"Something like the Emmy award, hopefully that’s going to poke the bear, bring the news back up and bring awareness about this," Awda said.

Awda said there are still at least two dozen interpreters he knows who helped U.S. forces more than a decade ago who are still in the Middle East awaiting visas to the U.S. 

The News and Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented Tuesday night. In the meantime, "The Interpreters" can be viewed on Amazon Prime.

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