Sally El Hosaini's 'The Swimmers' to open Toronto International Film Festival 2022

Filmmaker is among few Mena directors on the Canadian festival's line-up

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Egyptian-Welsh director Sally El Hosaini's latest feature The Swimmers will be the opening night movie at Toronto International Film Festival 2022.

This will also be its world premiere.

The Canadian festival will run from September 8 to 18 and will be in full swing again for the first time since the pandemic began after years of subdued events.

The city's King Street will shut down for the occasion, theatres will be at full capacity and open to maskless audiences, and there will be no need for proof of vaccinations.

About 260 feature films will be screened, alongside 18 galas and 45 special presentations at Tiff.

Scroll through the gallery above to see more of the films on the line-up.

First among them is The Swimmers, delayed owing to Covid-19, that tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini, who left Syria in 2015 and were at the Rio Olympics one year later.

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 09:  Yusra Mardini of Syria during a training session at the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 training pool Olympiapark Berlin on March 9, 2016 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IOC)

The sisters' story made international headlines when, after fleeing the war, they left for Greece from Turkey in an overcrowded dinghy. But, when its engine failed 15 minutes into the trip, they had to swim for three and a half hours in a bid to stop the boat from capsizing.

Yusra went on to compete in swimming events in Rio in 2016 as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Co-written by British screenwriter Jack Thorne, The Swimmers is being produced by British production house Working Title Films and Netflix, and was shot in the UK, Belgium and Turkey.

“I was deeply moved by the story of these two sisters and wowed by the storytelling, said the festival's chief executive 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."

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Sally El Hosaini, director and screenwriter of 'My Brother The Devil' receives the Best British Newcomer award in partnership with Swarovski during the 56th BFI London Film Festival Awards at the Banqueting House on October 20, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for BFI)

Lebanese actresses Manal and Nathalie Issa, who are real-life sisters, portray Yusra and Sarah in the movie.

Also taking starring roles are Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, Syrian actress Kinda Alloush and British actor James Krishna Floyd, who also appeared in El Hosaini’s last movie, the award-winning My Brother the Devil.

"I know it sounds cliched, but as soon as I read the script, I knew I had to do it," El Hosaini, who was raised in Cairo, previously told The National.

Films from the Mena region at Tiff

Also on the line-up is The Blue Caftan, by Moroccan filmmaker and actress Maryam Touzani, which appeared at Cannes Film Festival 2022.

It was co-produced by Touzani's husband, Moroccan-French director Nabil Ayouch, who last year had the honour of seeing his Casablanca Beats become the first Moroccan feature to play in Cannes’ main competition.

It tells the tale of a couple — Halim and Mina — who ran a kaftan shop in one of Morocco’s oldest markets. But things change when they hire a young apprentice in the store.

Nabil Ayouch, left, and Maryam Touzani attend the closing ceremony for the 75th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 28, 2022 in Cannes, France. Getty Images

Holy Spider by Iranian-Danish filmmaker Ali Abbasi, shot in Jordan, will also be screened. The story follows a journalist who plunges into the underworld of the Iranian holy city of Mashhad, as she investigates the murders of sex workers by the so-called Spider Killer, who believes he is cleansing the streets of sinners.

Also from Iran, director Jafar Panahi's latest No Bears makes the line-up. The director, who was recently jailed for six years, also stars in the movie that tells of two parallel love stories in which "the partners are thwarted by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition, and the mechanics of power", according to the film's description.

Films from India and South Korea make the cut

Indian director Shekhar Kapur will have his world premiere of What's Love Got To Do With It?, starring Lily James and Emma Thompson.

Indian coming-of-age movie Kacchey Limbu, starring Radhika Madan, will also have its world premiere at the event. Shubham Yogi directs the tale, which follows siblings on competing cricket teams who struggle to bridge the gap between family ties and match loyalties.

Indian filmmaker Shekar Kapur directs 'What's Love Got to do With It?', starring Emma Thompson. Photo: Expo 2020 Dubai

Films from South Korea will also have a good showing, with the line-up including Lee Jung-jae's debut Hunt, an espionage action flick that was also screened in Cannes; Broker by Hirokazu Kore-eda, a drama about baby boxes, which allows people to anonymously put infants into the care of others; the romantic mystery Decision to Leave, which won Park Chan-wook Best Director at Cannes Film Festival; and A Man of Reason by Jung Woo-sung and Walk Up by Hong Sangsoo, which will both have their world premieres.

Other international productions that will be screened include Joyland by Pakistan's Saim Sadiq, an Urdu-language drama that was the first Pakistani film to be selected in Cannes and which won Sadiq the Jury Prize of the Un Certain Regard section this year. It centres on the extended Ranas family, who hope for the birth of another boy for their patriarchal lineage.

From Nigeria, there's The King's Horseman by Biyi Bandele, a cinematic adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s acclaimed anti-colonial stage play, Death and the King’s Horseman.

World premieres and global big-hitters in Toronto

Alongside The Swimmers, a number of movies will have their world premieres at the event. This includes Rian Johnson’s Netflix title Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery; Nicholas Stoller's Bros; Clement Virgo’s Brother; Sanaa Lathan’s On the Come Up; the Amazon Prime picture starring Harry Styles, My Policeman; The Woman King, which stars Viola Davis; Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical story The Fabelmans; and Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy.

Lena Dunham's 'Catherine Called Birdy' will have its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival this year. AP

US military veteran drama Causeway, starring Jennifer Lawrence, will also have its world premiere, as well as Butcher's Crossing, which stars Nicolas Cage, and Alice, Darling with Anna Kendrick. Audiences will also see Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in Netflix's The Good Nurse, Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes in The Menu, plus Judi Dench in Allelujah.

Other anticipated screenings include Empire of Light from Sam Mendes, Tyler Perry's A Jazzman's Blues, Darren Aronofsky's The Whale and Martin McDonagh's The Banshees of Inisherin — to name a few.

Cannes Palme d'Or winner, Triangle of Sadness by director Ruben Ostlund, will also be screened. The story is about a cruise for the uber-wealthy that sinks and leaves survivors trapped on an island.

Scroll through the gallery below to see photos from the 'Triangle of Sadness' premiere.

Updated: July 31, 2022, 12:29 PM
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