THE SWIMMERS by Sally El Hosaini opens the 18th Zurich Film Festival

25. August 2022

The European Premiere of Sally El Hosaini’s drama THE SWIMMERS based on the inspirational true-life story of the Mardini sisters’ opens the 18th Zurich Film Festival on September 22, 2022. The film will be presented at Zurich’s Convention Center in the presence of guests and dignitaries including Ignazio Cassis, the president of the Swiss federal council, and Corine Mauch, the mayor of Zurich.


Sally El Hosaini’s Drama THE SWIMMERS is based on the true-life story of the Mardini sisters. © Laura Radford / Netflix 

The Working Title film for Netflix is directed and written by Sally El Hosaini and co-written by multi-award-winner Jack Thorne. Based on a true story, following the journey from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Two young sisters embark on a harrowing journey as refugees, putting both their hearts and champion swimming skills to heroic use.

“THE SWIMMERS is a deeply moving and timely film about a miraculous journey”, says Christian Jungen, Artistic Director. “It shines a light on the refugee crisis, but is also up-lifting and inspiring. We couldn’t imagine a better opening night film. Sally El Hosaini who already with her first feature MY BROTHER THE DEVIL won an award at Sundance is among the most talented new voices in auteur cinema. Being a festival committed to new talents it is a great pleasure to present her new work in the presence of German star Matthias Schweighöfer.”

Sally El Hosaini says “I’m thrilled that the extraordinary true life story of the Mardini sisters will open the 18th Zurich Film Festival as our European premiere. Never has there been such an important time for Europeans to see a film that elevates the visibility of refugees and honours those who risk their lives to have a better, safer life.”

Cast and Crew attending European Premiere in Zurich

Sally El Hosaini will be joined by cast Nathalie Issa and Matthias Schweighöfer, along with Sara and Yusra Mardini and swimming coach Sven Spannekrebs at the film’s European premiere at ZFF.

THE SWIMMERS follows the journey made by sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini. In 2015, after their house was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War, the sisters fled the country as refugees. They made their way to Lebanon and then Turkey, where they arranged to be smuggled into Greece by dinghy. In the middle of the Aegean Sea, the motor of the dinghy, overcrowded with refugees, cut out, the sisters and others who could swim, ensured the safety of the passengers. They went on to settle in Germany, with Yusra taking up training again with coach Sven Spannekrebs and going on to compete at the 2016 Olympics as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Starring Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ahmed Malek, James Krishna Floyd, Elmi Rashid Elmi, Kinda Alloush and Ali Suliman. Directed and written by Sally El Hosaini and co-written by multi-award-winning screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne. Produced by Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner alongside Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole with Stephen Daldry executive producing. The film will be out on Netflix later this year.

The European premiere will take place on Thursday, September 22, at the 1200 seat Convention Center, with an additional public screening at the Corso cinema. The complete programme of the 18th Zurich Film Festival will be published on the website on Thursday, September 8, from 12 noon local time. Ticket sales will start on Monday, September 12, from 12 noon local time.

The 18th ZFF edition takes place from September 22 until October 2, 2022
Programme announcement: 
Thu, September 8, 2022
Ticket sales: 
from Mon, September 12, 2022