Prior to its screening within the CIFF, The Swimmers had its international premiere at the opening of the 47th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
The Netflix production was made available for screening on the platform on 23 November.
The film is directed and written by Sally El-Hosaini, co-written by multi-award-winning screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne, and features a cast of well-known Arab and international actors, such as Lebanese sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa playing sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini; Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek; Syrian actress Kinda Alloush; as well as Matthias Schweighöfer (Germany), Ali Suleiman (Palestine) and James Krishna Floyd (UK).
It tells the story of two Syrian sisters who flee their country's civil war by swimming to Greece, before going on to compete as swimmers in the Rio Olympic games.
The Swimmers takes place in Syria, Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Germany and Brazil, and consists of many sequences shot at sea.
“It was very real, we went to the real coast where both sisters journeyed, the same boats, the same crossing sequence, we put the boat in the sea for real. We were surrounded with children and women refugees who were the supporting actors, many reliving their true experiences. Shooting was a very intense process,” El-Hosaini revealed during a panel discussion held at the 44th CIFF.
As the director explained she wanted the film to be real and honest. “This story has a happy ending and is one in a hundred of such cases. I also wanted to honour the 99 percent who were not that lucky.”
El-Hosaini also revealed that shooting had its emotional moments such as the scene showing the crossing. “It was a nightmare. This is a place of trauma, nightmares, dreams, where the broken underwater sequences take place. This was the most difficult scene for Yusra in terms of emotions.”
While the film tackles a serious political crisis, people are at its core. El-Hosaini filled The Swimmers with a lot of human aspects.
“The refugee crisis is indeed political. What is lacking is empathy. The displacement of people has been happening for hundreds of years and with climate change, people are going to be displaced because of famine, drought etc. When you watch the news you only see statistics of refugees; I wanted to present a different story, one of love, empathy and emotions.”