Sally El Hosaini’s drama “The Swimmers,” based on the inspirational true-life story of the Mardini sisters, will open the 18th Zurich Film Festival on Sept. 22. It will be the film’s European premiere.
The film is produced by Working Title for Netflix. It is directed and written by El Hosaini and co-written by Jack Thorne, based on a true story. It follows the journey from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics of two young sisters, who embark on a harrowing journey as refugees, putting both their hearts and champion swimming skills to heroic use.
El Hosaini will be joined at the screening by cast members Nathalie Issa and Matthias Schweighöfer, along with Sara and Yusra Mardini, and Yusra’s swimming coach Sven Spannenkrebs.
“’The Swimmers’ is a deeply moving and timely film about a miraculous journey,” Christian Jungen, the festival’s artistic director, said. “It shines a light on the refugee crisis, but is also up-lifting and inspiring. We couldn’t imagine a better opening night film. Sally El Hosaini, who already with her first feature ‘My Brother the Devil’ won an award at Sundance, is among the most talented new voices in auteur cinema.”
Guests at the opening ceremony will include Ignazio Cassis, the president of the Swiss federal council, and Corine Mauch, the mayor of Zurich.
In 2015, after their house was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War, the sisters fled the country as refugees. They made their way to Lebanon and then Turkey, where they arranged to be smuggled into Greece by dinghy. In the middle of the Aegean Sea, the motor of the dinghy cut out. The sisters and others who could swim ensured the safety of the passengers. They went on to settle in Germany, with Yusra taking up training again with coach Sven Spannenkrebs, and going on to compete at the 2016 Olympics as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.
The film stars Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Schweighöfer, Ahmed Malek, James Krishna Floyd, Elmi Rashid Elmi, Kinda Alloush and Ali Suliman. It is produced by Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner alongside Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole, with Stephen Daldry executive producing. The film will be out on Netflix later this year.