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From refugee to Olympian: Inside Netflix biopic 'The Swimmers'

The Swimmers, out now on Netflix
The Swimmers, out now on Netflix   -   Copyright  Netflix
By Euronews  with AP

New biographical drama The Swimmers follows the story of Yusra Mardini (Nathalie Issa) and her sister Sara (Manal Issa), who escape their war-torn country by swimming for hours across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Greece.

The sisters had been trained by their father in Syria, and upon reaching Germany as refugees, the pair was coached by Sven Spannekrebs (Matthias Schweighöfer).

Champion swimmer Yusra Mardini was profoundly moved by the movie retelling of her epic journey from war-torn Syria to Germany, and then on to Olympic glory in 2016.

"When I did what I did and I left my country or set a goal to go to the Olympics, I never thought that it will end up like that, so it is crazy. I'm trying to take it all in," says Mardini.

Yusra, who is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador for refugees, has a cameo in The Swimmers in a handful of technical swimming scenes.

"I doubled for myself - well, I doubled for Nathalie (Issa) that played me. So on set, they called me 'Yusra number two' and I was like, 'No, no, I'm the original one,'" smiled the 24-year-old, who now lives in Hamburg.

Netflix
The Swimmers, out now on NetflixNetflix

The Netflix movie is directed and co-written by Sally El Hosaini, who first heard about Yusra Mardini when she made headlines around the globe.

"I was just captivated and fascinated because the film wasn't just about one hero - it was about an unsung hero as well, and about that sister relationship and dynamic," she says. "I saw in that this opportunity to put on the screen the types of young, modern, liberal Arab women who never appear in cinema. So there was this opportunity there to represent Arab women in a way they hadn't been represented in before."

El Hosaini (My Brother the Devil, Babylon) made a point to cast refugees in the film and behind the scenes. 

"So there was a real sense of importance to what we were doing, and we really strove for the most authenticity that we could get," shares El Hosaini. "For example, when we were filming the dinghy scenes, we really did put a dinghy on the Aegean Sea at the same coastline where dinghies are crossing."

The Swimmers is based on Yusra’s autobiography “Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian — My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph”. It's available on Netflix now.