Former Goonie and Hobbit Sean Astin Has a New Rally Cry: Remember the ‘Sultana’!

By  · Published on May 15th, 2014


30 years ago, it was “Goonies never say die!” 20 years ago, it was “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame!” And 10 years ago, it was “There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for!” Now, Sean Astin has a new rally cry for us: “Remember the Sultana!”

That phrase goes with a documentary in the works called Sultana, and the actor is an executive producer on the project. It’s mostly the passion of Astin’s longtime friend, producer Mark Marshall, who he met on the set of The Goonies. But the two of them are united on screen promoting the film in the campaign video for a crowdfunding venture launched last month. It’s at Kickstarter, where their goal is $75k to go towards filming and post-production costs. “Voiceover Talent” is apparently a large part of that pie, which might in part mean for Astin himself. He’s set to narrate the history doc. But there are other voice actors involved, such as Deadwood’s Jim Beaver, American Pie’s Thomas Ian Nichols and Free Willy’s Jason Richter. Mostly former child actors apparently.

You likely don’t know the story of the SS Sultana. That’s basically the reason Marshall is so intent on telling it and why Astin says it has to be told and remembered. The Sultana was a steamboat that blew up and sank into the Mississippi River near Memphis at the end of the Civil War. About 1800 people died in the incident, known as the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history. Those passengers were among the almost 2500 consisting primarily of Union soldiers who’d just been freed from POW camps. Sadly they never got home to their loved ones. Of those who survived that day, more than half died soon after from burns and other related causes.

Furthering the tragedy is that the disaster wasn’t big news. Part of the reason may be due to America focusing on the death of John Wilkes Booth, who’d been killed the day before. Marshall also indicates on the Kickstarter page that there was a cover-up. If an accident, there was much fault in allowing overcrowding of the ship. If sabotage via Confederate torpedo, that would have been a serious act of war mere days following the South’s surrender. Of course, the disaster also wasn’t good for morale at the time, especially with the President just assassinated two weeks prior.

The story sounds like it’d be great fodder for a Hollywood drama, and maybe this film could inspire that down the line. For now, the plan is for a seemingly conventional history doc that could air on cable. In the Kickstarter video you can see some of the historians who are on board, including Jerry Potter, whose 1992 book “The Sultana Tragedy” is clearly a major source material for the documentary. If the estimated delivery date for most of the project’s pledge perks is an indication, Sultana is expected to be out in time for the 150th anniversary of the tragedy next April.

Sultana is the second Kickstarter for Astin in less than a year, as last September he launched a very successful campaign (as in it more than doubled the goal) for his own passion project, the political interview show Vox Populi. He also contributed to an unsuccessful campaign for a Nikola Tesla movie back in October. Someone should tell him to put a bit of money into the current campaign for very cool Goonies trading cards, though that project is already way over goal.

Watch Astin and Marshall discuss the Sultana disaster in one of the many campaign videos:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.