TIFF to Open With World Premiere of Sally El Hosaini’s ‘The Swimmers’

The film is based on the true story of the Mardini sisters’ journey from Syria to the Rio Olympics

Laura Radford/Netflix

Sally El Hosaini’s “The Swimmers” has been chosen as the Opening Night Gala Presentation for the 47th Toronto International Film Festival.

Based on the true story of Yusra and Sarah Mardini, “The Swimmers” chronicles the journey of two sisters who flee Syria in the midst of war and eventually make it to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In August 2015, the Mardini sisters were on the third leg of their journey, a boat trip from Turkey to Greece, when the overcrowded vessel began to sink. After more than three hours of swimming, they were able to propel the passengers to safety. Less than a year later, 18-year-old Yusra made her Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, followed by the Tokyo Summer Games four years later.

Led by sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa as Yusra and Sarah, the Netflix and Working Title film also stars Ahmed Malek, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ali Suliman, Kinda Alloush, James Krishna Floyd, and Elmi Rashid Elmi. El Hosaini wrote the screenplay with Jack Thorne (“Wonder,” “Enola Holmes,” “His Dark Materials”).

Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner produced, alongside Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole. Stephen Daldry served as executive producer.

“I’m ecstatic. What an honour and privilege to open TIFF with the inspirational true-life story of the Mardini sisters,” said El Hosaini in a statement “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.”

“I was deeply moved by the story of these two sisters and wowed by the storytelling,” said TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey. “’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.”

This will be El Hosaini’s second feature-length film. Her debut feature, the immigrant crime drama “My Brother the Devil,” premiered at Sundance in 2012.

“The Swimmers” premieres at TIFF on Sept. 8 and will release globally on Netflix later this year.