‘The Sultan and the Saint’ tells of breaking down the unknown

AE-BS-S&S- Day 16-2016-96 resizeWhat impact can one encounter make?

While details are scarce about the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt in the 13th century amid the Fifth Crusade, it has become an important symbol of interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of peace, even in the midst of great conflict.

The historic meeting of the two faith leaders will receive a fresh look Dec. 26 on PBS, at 8 p.m. Eastern, in the new docudrama “The Sultan and the Saint,” which blends scholarly, documentary-style interviews with dramatic reenactments of the story and with Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons as narrator.

“It just seemed like this is a story for our time,” writer and director Alex Kronemer told NCR. “This idea that a simple Christian friar met with a mighty Muslim leader and together they had a relatively brief encounter that had enormous consequences.”

The story of “The Sultan and the Saint” itself began 30 years ago, when Kronemer, during a trip to Assisi, Italy, encountered a Giotto fresco depicting the meeting between Francis and al-Kamil.

“It seemed incredible that such a thing had happened, and I kind of wanted to know more about it then,” said the Muslim filmmaker, who developed the docudrama with Unity Productions Foundation.

“The Sultan and the Saint” offers a deeper exploration into a story that many Christians and Muslims may know of in passing, but are hazier about the details.

The meeting between Francis and al-Kamil took place in 1219, amid the Fifth Crusade, in Damietta, an important Egyptian port city on the Nile River where Christian soldiers were attempting a siege. At that point, the Crusades, the violent effort by Christians to recapture control of Jerusalem, had stretched more than 100 years.

There are few historical accounts of the encounter. In the film, Francis is depicted as seeking to end the Crusades through preaching the Gospel. While the meeting did not bring about peace, Franciscan historian Fr. Michael Cusato said in the film, the encounter represented a “faith exchange,” as both men testified to God’s role in their own lives and were able to “listen to the other’s perspective, allowing God to be God in the lives of both of them.”


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