'The Swimmers': Production starts on film portraying refugee sisters’ journey from Syria to Rio Olympics

Welsh-Egyptian Sally El Hosaini directs movie telling the true story of Yusra and Sarah Mardini

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini during a training session for the 2016 Rio Olympics. 'The Swimmers' tells the inspiring story of sisters Yusra and Sarah's journey from their war-torn country in 2015 to the Brazil Olympics the following year. Getty Images. 
Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini during a training session for the 2016 Rio Olympics. 'The Swimmers' tells the inspiring story of sisters Yusra and Sarah's journey from their war-torn country in 2015 to the Brazil Olympics the following year. Getty Images. 

Production finally started on Sally El Hosaini’s latest film The Swimmers after a year-long delay, online magazine Variety reported.

The Netflix and Working Title film tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini, who left Syria in 2015 and were at the Rio Olympics one year later.

The sisters' story made international headlines when, after fleeing the war, they left for Greece from Turkey in an overcrowded dinghy. But, when the 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 Olympics Team.

Syrian Yusra Mardini of the Refugee Olympic Team competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Getty Images
Syrian Yusra Mardini of the Refugee Olympic Team competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Getty Images

According to Variety, the film was only five days away from principle photography when the pandemic shut down productions worldwide last year.

Speaking of her excitement at making the film, El Hosaini said: “I know it sounds cliched, but as soon as I read the script, I knew I had to do it."

Lebanese sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa will play the roles of the swimming sisters on screen. Manal won best actress at the Les Arcs European Film Festival for the 2015 film Parisienne.

James Krishna Floyd will also star in the film. He was the lead actor in El Hosaini's 2012 debut film My Brother The Devil, which picked up prizes at the Sundance, Berlin and London film festivals.

Egyptian-Welsh film director and screenwriter Sally El Hosaini on set of her award-winning feature film 'My Brother The Devil'. Courtesy The Arab British Centre
Egyptian-Welsh film director and screenwriter Sally El Hosaini on set of her award-winning feature film 'My Brother The Devil'. Courtesy The Arab British Centre

Announcing the start of production on his Facebook page, Mr Floyd said he was proud and humbled to be working on the project.

Based on a screenplay by El Hosaini and Bafta-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne, The Swimmers is set for global release next year. Shooting will start this week in the UK, then Turkey and Belgium, Variety said.

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Updated: April 22, 2021 01:16 PM

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