New Docs Boards 'Long Distance Swimmer: Sara Mardini'

Germany based New Docs, an international sales agency specializing in documentaries, has boarded sales on documentary “Long Distance Swimmer: Sara Mardini,” written and directed by Charly Wai Feldman (HBO’s “The Talwars”).

Sara Mardini fled Syria in 2015 with her younger sister Yusra, and when the motor of the boat they escaped on failed on the sea crossing to Greece, the sisters used their skills as competitive swimmers to bring the boat to safety. Their journey made headlines around the world, and is dramatized in Netflix film “The Swimmers,” which opened Toronto earlier this year.

The documentary begins when the fictionalized drama ends. Sara spent three years volunteering to save refugees on the same journey that made her so famous, and was suddenly arrested in Aug. 2018, accused by Greek authorities of running a criminal enterprise with charges including “international espionage and people smuggling.” If convicted, she faces up to 25 years in prison and the end of her humanitarian career. Shot over three years, the film follows Sara’s fight for justice and journey of self-discovery.

Franziska von Berlepsch served as editor and story consultant and Zamarin Wahdat as DoP.

The film is produced by DOCDAYS Productions and Safe Passage in co-production with SWR and in collaboration with ARTE. It is funded by MOIN Filmstiftung and the Malik Bendjelloul Memorial Fund. Executive producers include Antje Boehmert, Anna von Dziembowska, Daniel Druhora and Drake Burnette. Commissioning editors for SWR are Gudrun Hanke-El Ghomri, Bernd Seidl and Simone Reuter. It was developed at EURODOC and participated in the Assembly Lab at Open City Doc Festival and First Cut Lab.

Mindjazz Pictures will distribute theatrically nationwide in Germany in March 2023, with a premiere in Hamburg.

Feldman said: “Our documentary begins when the Netflix drama ends. Sara’s journey from refugee to humanitarian and accused criminal marks a major shift in attitudes towards refugees and those who help them. It was vital for Sara and our team to put the issue in the spotlight, and so began a layered and intimate portrait of the impact that criminalizing humanitarians has on a deeply personal level.”

Anna von Dziembowska of Safe Passage said: “When I heard about Sara’s arrest in the summer of 2018, I called Daniel Druhora, a friend of Sara’s, to ask how I could help. He said ‘We are filmmakers, let’s make a film.’ And so we did.”

Antje Boehmert of DOCDAYS Productions said: “When I got to know the project in 2019 and was invited to this co-production, I didn’t hesitate for a second. The film addresses so many issues that we have to negotiate as a society.”

Elina Krewitz of New Docs added: “We are thrilled to have added ‘Long Distance Swimmer: Sara Mardini’ to our line-up. We have worked with DOCDAYS Productions in the past and we look forward to continuing this fruitful relationship with Charly Wai Feldman’s bigger-than-life story about the Syrian Olympic swimmer Sara Mardini who came to Germany as a refugee in 2015. We started pitching the documentary to festival programmers at the IDFA and hope for a world premiere in the first half of 2023.”

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