The film follows the harrowing journey of two young sisters from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Egyptian-Welsh director Sally El-Hosaini’s drama The Swimmers will open the 18th edition of the Zurich Film Festival.
The Swimmers, which will have its world premiere in Toronto, will have its European bow in Zurich on September 22.
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.
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.
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.
Speaking about the film, Christian Jungen, Artistic Director at ZFF, said: “The Swimmers is a deeply moving and timely film about a miraculous journey. 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.”
Sally El-Hosaini added: “I’m thrilled that the extraordinary true life story of the Mardini sisters will open the 18th Zurich Film Festival as our European premiere. Never has there been such an important time for Europeans to see a film that elevates the visibility of refugees and honours those who risk their lives to have a better, safer life.”
The film will be out on Netflix later this year.