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The Sultan and the Saint: Making Peace in the Crusades

Posted by Erin Bechtol

From the Franciscan Action Network

The Sultan and the Saint tells one of the great, lost stories from history. Set in a past period of East-West conflict, it speaks with urgency to our present. Two men of faith, one an itinerant Christian preacher, the other the ruler of a Muslim Empire, bucked a century of war, distrust, and insidious propaganda in a search for mutual respect and common ground. It is the story of Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, and their meeting on a bloody battlefield during the period of Christian-Muslim conflict known as the Crusades.

Many people reference the Crusades in various ways, but few know the most important facts:

• That the Crusades began with dehumanizing rhetoric that tapped into something primal and dangerous and violent in the human mind.

• That it resulted in four generations of escalating conflict that was directed not only at Muslims, but also Jews, Orthodox Christians in the East, and eventually other Europeans.

• And that it seemed to have no end. But then—while sliding on the evermore slippery road to apocalypse—Francis of Assisi undertook one of the bravest risks in the history of peacemaking by crossing enemy lines to meet with the Sultan of a supposedly cruel and Satanic enemy.

• And that Sultan responded with one of the greatest humanitarian acts in the history of warfare by saving the hated Crusaders from starvation when the flooding of the Nile trapped their army of 50,000.

• And finally, that this little known encounter between these two men helped suck the venom out of the conflict and ultimately ended this seemingly endless war.

This is big history, important history. Not only does it speak directly to the conflicts of today, the story itself is very dramatic with many fascinating twists and turns, and with central characters who are more compelling than even their legends claim.

On one hand there is Francis, a starry-eyed would-be knight in provincial Assisi, captured as a prisoner of war and imprisoned for a year, then released as an abused victim of violence, whose one solution to witnessing so much hatred was a radical reorganization of his life and values.

And there is a forgotten Muslim prince, the young nephew of the brilliant Saladin, Richard the Lionheart’s famous opponent, who was raised in the Sultan’s palace and groomed for the throne by his mother steeped in Islamic learning. Two more unlikely protagonists are hard to imagine. And yet the meeting between these two men, at a crossroads moment, changed history.

Production Approach

Such a dramatic story requires a cinematic approach equal to it. We will be supplementing commentary from our nine world-renowned historians and scholars with large-scale reenactments, utilizing moving camera platforms and feature-film quality art design. Actors will play the roles and recite dialogue largely lifted from the historical record. A team of twelve stunt men will bring authenticity to the action sequences. Music will be composed by Emmy-Award Winner John Keltonic. We will have a star narrator, and are currently reaching out to Jeremy Irons. (Narrators for our previous films have included Susan Sarandon, Mos Def, and Helen Mirren.)

Past Broadcasts

UPF’s previous national PBS Broadcasts include: Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (2002); Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain (2006); Prince Among Slaves (2007); Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (2011); and Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story (2014).

Beyond the Broadcast

Prior to broadcast, UPF will coordinate 40 film screenings in collaboration with various national and local partners, including local PBS affiliate stations. UPF has a proven premiere model, having already conducted over 100 similar premieres for previous films, and we expect up to 20,000 attendees for this film. In addition, using our proven classroom outreach model, several thousand high school and college classrooms will receive and watch the film and engage in discussion about its themes. We are also budgeting for publicists to lay the groundwork for reviews in major press and media outlets. UPF films are routinely reviewed in major radio, magazine, and television outlets. The film will also have an interactive website, which will introduce users to guided webpages and activities, including videos. UPF has experience in launching major digital platforms around films with its 2007 film Prince Among Slaves, (broadcast nationally on PBS and awarded “Best Film” at the American Black Film Festival). This website was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The potential for The Sultan and the Saint to do the same is enormous, and we intend to bring our full experience and resources to make the release of the film as big as the topic deserves.

This will be a major film, and one that will deliver an important social good at a critical moment in our history.

For more information contact: Jawaad Abdul Rahman, UPF (703) 582-3854 |


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