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The True Story Behind Netflix’s The Swimmers


Film producers had been lining up in 2016 to safe rights to the life story {of professional} swimmers Yusra and Sara Mardini, however the sisters turned down a number of presents. The siblings had been identified for his or her exceptional story of survival and heroism, however after fleeing Syria’s ongoing civil warfare only one 12 months earlier, they weren’t but prepared for the world to see it on display screen.

Throughout their journey, the sisters arrived in Turkey on a aircraft and hoped to succeed in Germany by way of Greece on a ship. They went up towards the chilling waves of the Aegean Sea, when the motor on the overcrowded dinghy carrying 18 different asylum seekers immediately stalled. The Mardini sisters jumped into the water with out hesitating, grabbed maintain of the ropes together with two different passengers, and used their lifelong swimming abilities to pull everybody to security. That day, their 45-minute boat trip became a three-and-a-half-hour swim.

“I stated no as a result of I wished to give attention to the Olympics. It had been a dream of mine since I used to be 9 years outdated, so I wished to get pleasure from each single little bit of it,” recollects Yusra, now 24, who was gearing as much as take part at Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics as a part of the first-ever refugee group. “Some producer stated nobody goes to have an interest within the story after Rio and I instructed them ‘That’s OK, I’m right here to swim,’” she provides.

That producer was improper. On Nov. 23, the Mardini sisters’ story lastly hits the display screen as The Swimmers, directed by Sally El Hosaini, arrives on Netflix.


Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini, Manal Issa as Sara Mardini, Ahmed Malek as Nizar

Laura Radford/Netflix

What occurs in The Swimmers?

The movie follows 17-year-old Yusra and 20-year-old Sara (performed by Nathalie and Manal Issa, respectively) of their easy life in Daraya, Damascus, earlier than it was disrupted by the escalation of Syria’s civil warfare. What started as peaceable, pro-democracy demonstrations towards President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 escalated right into a full-scale war when the federal government met dissidents with lethal pressure. Earlier than this, the sisters participated in swim classes with teaching from their father, partied with associates, and hung out with their mother and father, youthful sister, and fowl Lulu (a stand-in for his or her real-life cat.)

As the consequences of warfare grow to be more durable to keep away from, Sara convinces her household that she and Yusra, together with their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek), ought to embark on a journey to Germany, the place a few of their associates have fled to. Their plan is to use for family reunification, which might enable the remainder of their household to affix them, earlier than Yusra turns 18. After a treacherous journey involving social stigma from disapproving European residents and corrupt smugglers, the trio arrive in Berlin the place they grow to be refugees. There, a assured Yusra barges into a neighborhood swimming membership, boasting her instances, and positive factors sponsorship by coach Sven, who trains her to affix the first-ever refugee group on the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I watched the movie for the primary time with my sister and we had been crying after which laughing after which crying once more,” recollects Yusra. “They did an incredible job. The 2 ladies who performed us had been actual sisters from Lebanon in order that they understood our background.”

“The movie was a reminder of how sturdy our relationship was and the way we had been tremendous shut,” says Sara, now 27, including that she and Yusra went on completely different paths after they arrived in Germany. Yusra continued knowledgeable sporting profession and in addition turned the youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N refugee company in April 2017, whereas Sara returned to Greece in August 2016 to supply life-saving support to different refugees.

Manal Issa in 'The Swimmers' (Ali Güler/Netflix)

Manal Issa in ‘The Swimmers’

Ali Güler/Netflix

What did Yusra and Sara’s journey from Syria to Germany actually appear to be?

It took Yusra and Sara 25 days to get from Syria to Germany, with the primary portion of their journey happening by way of flights then by boat to Greece. “Then it was by foot, we walked, used buses, taxis, no matter we might use,” says Yusra.

Recalling essentially the most taxing a part of their journey, once they swam within the Aegean Sea for over three hours, Sara says she considered completely nothing. “I used to be scared to die, however I felt like somebody needed to do it to make the boat lighter,” she recollects. Yusra recollects that her thoughts was additionally clean once they had been making an attempt to stabilize the boat as a result of she was too centered on surviving to consider the rest.

The sisters additionally skilled a variety of anti-migrant prejudice and discrimination in Europe and initially struggled to embrace the time period “refugee”: “Folks had been treating you as when you have some sort of illness, such as you’re not human,” says Sara.

Learn Extra: Finding Home: A Year in the Life of Syrian Refugees

However one joyful facet of being a refugee was belonging to a various neighborhood that seemed out for each other. Sara says there have been as many as 30 folks in Turkey ready to cross the waters they usually turned a “large household,” including that they slept on a rotation system to maintain one another secure.

Laura Radford/Netflix

What do Yusra and Sara need folks to remove from their life story?

After witnessing folks’s shock when she doesn’t match their stereotype of a downtrodden refugee, Yusra desires to problem the concept refugee id is a monolith. She additionally hopes the movie counters the misperception that individuals flee their nation as a result of they need to benefit from the sources of their host nation: “It’s not an expensive life, you need to fill out a lot paperwork, some folks fall into melancholy, some are usually not accepted by their host societies—they’ve to go away behind every part they know.” She desires viewers to do not forget that small acts of kindness towards determined folks go a great distance.

In the meantime, Sara hopes folks understand that single male refugees, very like their cousin Nizar, have it “10 instances more durable” than girls or youngsters. “They’re the final ones to be checked or to be taken care of” however they’re usually vilified within the media, she says. She can also be redeemed by the concept folks will see that her half of the story is equally legitimate and fearless, after years of being outlined as Yusra’s sister—as a result of Olympian’s excessive profile after she gained the opening warmth of the 100m butterfly with a time of 1 minute and 9.21 seconds in 2016.

Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini and Manal Issa as Sara Mardini in 'The Swimmers' (Laura Radford/Netflix)

Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini and Manal Issa as Sara Mardini in ‘The Swimmers’

Laura Radford/Netflix

The place are the Mardini sisters now and what’s subsequent for them?

Rising up, the Mardini sisters say they had been so hooked up on the hip that they had been extra like twins, however now they’re on completely different paths and even continents. Yusra returned to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics final 12 months; she certified for group Syria however nonetheless selected to be on the refugee group, and she or he is presently finding out movie and tv manufacturing in California.

She can also be persevering with her U.N ambassadorship, which she says entails on-the-ground work at refugee camps, in addition to advocating at high-level occasions: “I’ll inform my story one million instances till I see change,” says Yusra.

In the meantime, Sara, who continues to be obsessed with swimming for enjoyment, has had a tempestuous few years working with a refugee support group in Lesbos, which led to her and two colleagues being arrested by Greek authorities in 2018. The costs introduced towards the three employees had been on suspicion of trafficking and smuggling migrants into Greece, in addition to spying and cash laundering. Sara spent 107 days in prison earlier than she was launched on bail. Sara says they solely acquired an English translation of their case file in November, and final week she was capable of return to a Greek courthouse to submit a memo stating that they nonetheless consider they’re harmless.

Whereas the trio await their January courtroom date, Sara is again in Berlin and eager to give attention to her psychological well being and eventually be taught German correctly: ”I need to work on it and hopefully return to highschool.” The remainder of the Mardini household crossed the ocean to Europe in 2016 they usually now dwell in Berlin. Sara says they haven’t returned to go to Syria but however they hope to do it collectively. “It’s a brand new starting,” she concludes.

Extra Should-Reads From TIME


Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com.

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