‘The Swimmers’ Refugee Drama to Open Toronto Film Festival

Sally El Hosaini’s refugee drama “The Swimmers” will open the 47th Toronto International Film Festival.

The film follows the journey made by swimming sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini who fled as refugees from war-torn Syria all the way to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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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 motor of the dinghy, overcrowded with refugees, cut out, and the Mardini sisters and others who could swim, ensured the safety of the passengers.

The film is based on a screenplay by El Hosaini and BAFTA winner Jack Thorne (“Help”).

The roles of Yusra and Sarah Mardini are played by Lebanese sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa (“My Favourite Fabric”). Manal Issa won best actress at the Les Arcs European Film Festival for “Parisienne” (2015).

The cast also includes “My Brother the Devil” lead James Krishna Floyd, Ahmed Malek (“About Her”), Matthias Schweighöfer (“The Break Up Man”), Ali Suliman (“200 Meters”), Kinda Alloush (“Except Me”) and Elmi Rashid Elmi (“Trying”).

Welsh-Egyptian writer and director El Hosaini’s feature debut “My Brother the Devil” (2013) premiered at Sundance, winning the world cinema cinematography dramatic prize and also securing El Hosaini the best British newcomer prize at the BFI London Film Festival and best European film at the Berlinale.

The film is produced by Working Title’s Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan, former Variety contributor Ali Jaafar (“King of Thieves”) and Tim Cole (“Wild Bill”). It is executive produced by Stephen Daldry (“The Crown”).

“The Swimmers” shot on location in the U.K., Turkey and Belgium. It will release on Netflix globally in 2022.

The film’s world premiere will be the festival’s opening night gala presentation on Sept. 8, at Roy Thomson Hall.

Festival CEO Cameron Bailey 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 honor everyone who risks everything to reach a better, safer life.”

El Hosaini added: “I’m ecstatic. What an honor and privilege to open TIFF with the inspirational true-life story of the Mardini sisters. A city as multicultural and diverse as Toronto is the perfect place to debut our film that elevates the visibility and voice of refugees, reminding us that the human capacity to survive is stronger than most of us know.”

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place Sept. 8-18. The festival lineup already includes the Billy Eichner rom-com “Bros,” the Viola Davis historical epic “The Woman King,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” with Daniel Craig, “My Policeman,” a historical drama with Harry Styles, Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” and Lena Dunham’s “Catherine Called Birdy.”

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