The film is based on the true story of Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians Sarah and Yusra Mardini.
Egyptian-Welsh director Sally El-Hosaini’s drama The Swimmers will open the 47th Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, which will also mark the movie’s world premiere.
The film tells the true story of swimming sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini’s journey as refugees from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Yusra competed as a swimmer as part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROT).
In 2015, after their house was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War, the Mardini sisters decided to flee the country. 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 engine failed 15 minutes into the trip, they had to swim for three and a half hours in a bid to stop the boat from capsizing.
The roles of Yusra and Sarah Mardini are played by Lebanese sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa (My Favourite Fabric). The cast also includes James Krishna Floyd, Ahmed Malek, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ali Suliman, Kinda Alloush and Elmi Rashid Elmi.
Co-written by British screenwriter Jack Thorne, The Swimmers is being produced by British production house Working Title Films and Netflix, and was shot in the UK, Belgium and Turkey.
In a statement, Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, said: “I was deeply moved by the story of these two sisters and wowed by the storytelling. The Swimmers was the very best kind of surprise when we saw it this summer — an exciting, epic journey and the arrival of an important filmmaker. I’m thrilled that audiences in Toronto will be the first to discover Sally El-Hosaini’s remarkable film, and that this year on our opening night we can honour everyone who risks everything to reach a better, safer life.”
About 260 feature films will be screened, alongside 18 galas and 45 special presentations at TIFF.