Unity Productions Foundation new film The Sultan and the Saint airs on December 26th at 8/7c on PBS. The docudrama recounts the unlikely friendship between St. Francis and Malik al-Kamil Nasir al-Din Muhammad, ruler of Egypt, and their illustrious meeting on a bloody battlefield during the period of Christian-Muslim conflict known as the Crusades. It is the story of two men of faith who bucked a century of war, distrust, and insidious propaganda in a search for mutual respect and common ground. The film is written and directed by Alex Kronemer, and narrated by Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons.
Why tell this 800-year-old story now? Filmmaker Alex Kronemer believes many of the circumstances that made the mass slaughter of the Crusades possible are in play again between East and West, especially the dehumanizing of one’s enemies and rhetoric that “otherizes” those who are considered different because of religion or race. “When people begin otherizing that bleeds out into” other areas, such as politics, Kronemer said. “I think that is a period I think we are in right now. We are hoping that the film raises that and provides a model through these two individuals to how you can overcome that.”
That’s reflected in the viewing parties Kronemer’s production company, Unity Productions Foundation, and PBS have organized nationwide for the airing Tuesday. There are more than 100 scheduled, ranging from family gatherings to interfaith meet-ups. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Baha’i groups are hosting parties from Massachusetts to California.
Michael Lavach and his wife will hold a viewing party at their house near San Diego the next time their monthly devotional interfaith group gets together. They are Baha’is and saw the film a year ago at the invitation of a Catholic sister who knew of a screening.
“What we are trying to do in (their devotional group) is break down barriers and help people become more open to different faiths so they can understand that all major belief systems come from one God and should not be a cause for fighting,” he said. “We thought if St. Francis and the sultan can come together, why not everybody else?”