When the Syrian uprising began in the spring of 2011, the Mardini family did not give it much thought. For years the family’s focus had been on training their daughters, Sarah and her younger sister Yusra, to someday compete in the Olympics as members of the Syrian Olympic Swim Team. After seeing his own Olympic hopes dashed as a young man, the girl’s father had been putting all of his efforts into coaching his daughters to achieve what had eluded him. But when bombs eventually began to fall on the sisters as they trained, everything changed.
The Swimmers is a 2022 biographical drama that tells the story of how the Mardini sisters made the treacherous journey from war-torn Syria to Germany as asylum seekers during the height of the refugee crisis in Europe.
The screenplay was written by Jack Thorne and Sally El-Housaini, who also directed the film. It was produced by Working Title Films and Netflix in English and Arabic with English subtitles and was filmed in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Turkey.
Real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa were cast in the roles of Yusra and Sarah Mardini respectively, although Yusra doubled as herself in many of the swimming scenes as the Issa sisters had to be taught how to swim after being hired for the movie.
Although it is based on the true story of Sarah and Yusra Mardini’s experiences, El-Housaini approached the making of the film as an opportunity to show in a realistic manner what many refugees experience in real life.
the movie’s end credits are also helping to bring awareness to the plight of many humanitarian volunteers who have been treated as criminals by authorities in Europe
Even as The Swimmers does a pretty good job of giving an accurate portrayal of the hardships that many Syrian refugees experienced in their efforts to find a place to live in safety, the movie’s end credits are also helping to bring awareness to the plight of many humanitarian volunteers who have been treated as criminals by authorities in Europe. Regardless of the motivation for doing so, the criminalization of those who are forced by violence to flee their homelands, and the humanitarians who help them, has only served to inflame the racist attitudes of many making Europe less welcoming for those who have already suffered much.
Attempts by Amnesty International and other advocacy organizations to get the charges against Sarah Mardini dropped have so far been unsuccessful
In 2018 Sarah Mardini was arrested in Greece where she had gone back to help other refugees along with approximately two dozen other volunteers. Although the group was working with a licensed non-profit humanitarian organization, they were charged with money laundering and human trafficking. Attempts by Amnesty International and other advocacy organizations to get the charges against Sarah Mardini dropped have so far been unsuccessful and her case remains active with her trial scheduled to begin on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
no explanation is given for the violence that occurs in Syria at the beginning of the movie leaving viewers with no awareness of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on the people of Syria
Despite the fact that The Swimmers, the Issa sisters who starred in it, and the Mardini sisters whose story it tells, were given a four-minute standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, El-Housaini has been criticized for incorporating orientalist cliches into the script, for originally writing all the dialogue in English, and for not hiring more Syrian actors. Hama native Kinda Alloush, who plays the role of Sarah and Yusra’s mother, is in fact the only Syrian actress in the movie. In addition, no explanation is given for the violence that occurs in Syria at the beginning of the movie leaving viewers with no awareness of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on the people of Syria after the onset of the Syrian Revolution wondering what is going on.
In spite of its shortcomings, The Swimmers is definitely worth watching and has been well-received by viewers since it began airing on Netflix in late November 2022.