LONG DISTANCE SWIMMER – SARA MARDINI

One moment champion Syrian swimmer Sara Mardini is Europe’s most celebrated refugee and humanitarian, the next she is a “criminal mastermind”. While her sister competes as a swimmer at the Olympics, Sara awaits trial and a possible 25-year prison sentence.

At 20, Sara was already famous. She fled Syria in 2015 with her younger sister Yusra. When their boat broke down as they were crossing the sea to Greece, Sara and Yusra jumped into the water. The sisters, both competitive swimmers, towed the boat to safety. Their journey made headlines around the world, and is dramatized in a Netflix film called The Swimmers. Our story begins when the fictionalised drama ends. Sara has spent three years rescuing refugees on the same journey that made her famous, but is suddenly arrested in August 2018, accused by Greek authorities of running a criminal enterprise and charged with “international espionage and people smuggling”. If convicted, she faces up to 25 years in prison and the end of her humanitarian career. Banned from Lesbos and waiting for news of the trial, she lives a surreal existence in Berlin. Studying at a liberal arts college by day, escaping to techno clubs at night, she tries to reconnect with her family, while Yusra trains for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, a dream the two sisters once shared. Shot over a period of three years, the film follows Sara’s fight for justice and journey of self-discovery, and it illustrates Europe’s biggest shift in the last decade: from being a place that welcomed refugees to an environment hostile to those who dare pull drowning people out of the sea.