The Toronto Film Festival kicks off with the screening of ‘The Swimmers’

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Sven Spannekrebs, Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Yusra Mardini, Sara Mardini, Sally El Hosaini, James Krishna Floyd and Matthias Schweighofer attend the World Premiere of ‘The Swimmers’ at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 8, 2022. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

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TORONTO, Sept 8 (Reuters) – The stars and real-life inspiration of “The Swimmers” strutted down the red carpet on Thursday to open the 47th Toronto International Film Festival – the first in-person take on the film’s celebration in Toronto since the pandemic.

“The Swimmers,” a Netflix film hitting select theaters November 23, is a dramatization of a true story of two sisters who fled their home and endured a harrowing journey before rebuilding their lives and, for one of them, to get to the Olympics.

Sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini, played by real sisters Nathalie Issa and Manal Issa, fled Syria’s war-torn capital, Damascus, to seek a new life in Europe. They crossed Lebanon and Turkey and braved an often deadly crossing for migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, helping bring their overcrowded dinghy ashore. They arrived in Greece and continued to Germany.

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Yusra Mardini was selected to compete for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and competed again in 2020. Her sister Sara, meanwhile, has become active in helping refugees.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 24,598 people have disappeared in the Mediterranean since 2014.

That reality was driven home when film crews saw dinghies with real-life migrants while filming the film’s dinghy scene, director Sally El Hosaini told Reuters.

“We saw the canoes crossing during filming. And it reminds you how important this story is.”

She said she used handmade lenses with imperfections to portray scenes in a way far removed from newsreel images to keep people from tuning out.

Manal Issa, who plays Sara Mardini in the film, said the discourse on refugees and asylum seekers needs to change both in fiction and in media coverage, highlighting what she said was a different approach refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine compared to those outside Europe. .

“You know what happened this year with Ukraine: ‘It’s not Afghanistan. It’s not Syria’… That’s what people believe.”

It was “crazy” to see her life translated to the big screen, said Yusra Mardini. Standing next to her sister on the red carpet in a shimmering silver sequin dress in front of a series of microphones, she said she knew she and her sister were now uniquely placed to have a strong voice on this issue.

“Obviously this film will put the conversation back on the table, talk about refugees, talk about the crisis.”

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Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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