By Renu Mehta
The Gala film – Swimmers – had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was the opening night film of the festival. Swimmers is a must see tale of two sisters who leave their war torn country Syria as refugees for a better life in Germany The 134 minute film by Sally El Hosaini is an emotional story of courage, perseverance and determination and their inspiring reach for a better life.
“I’m ecstatic. What an honour and privilege to open TIFF with the inspirational true-life story of the Mardini sisters,” said director El Hosaini. “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.”
Yusra and Sara are national swimming champions in Syria where they are trained by their father (Ali Suliman) since childhood, having pursued rigorous training. It is their father’s dream that they participate in the Olympics. By 2015, with Syria’s civil war escalating, their dreams of Olympic gold are quickly fading and they decide to risk the unsafe and terrifying journey to Europe. Accompanied by their cousin (Ahmed Malek), they escape to Turkey. From there, they board a small boat teeming with fellow refugees to cross a stretch of the Mediterranean sea. When the engine of the boat fails in the middle of the sea, the two sisters plunge into the deep water and pull the boat to safety after a long and death defying swimming feat. But their journey is far from over.
Nathalie Issa and Manal Issa, sisters in real life, deliver outstanding performances as Yusra and Sara telling their story of love for each other, family and their compassion for fellow refugees. Once they arrive in Germany, their fortunes begin to look brighter in Europe when they meet up with swim coach Sven Spannekrebs (Matthias Schweighöfer) who sees Yusra’s potential and gets her to participate in the refugee Olympic swim team.
The powerful storytelling is an emotional portrayal of their real life story, describing the fierce love of the sisters for each other and their determination to fulfill their dreams amidst unspeakable adversity.
“I was so emotional when I saw the film,” said an audience member at the Princess of Wales theatre on September 8. “The film provides a deeper insight and understanding into the plight of refugees. I couldn’t stop crying.”
Certainly an inspiring film worth watching!