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MSU Cinema International Presents Syrian Film "The Swimmers" This Week

Murray State University's Cinema International is screening the 2022 biographical sports drama The Swimmers this week. Based on a true story, the film follows the journey of two sisters from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics and their harrowing journey as refugees. The sisters were training for the Olympics, but tragedy strikes as the Syrian Civil War impacts their home and forces them to leave their homeland. Daniel Hurt speaks to Dr. Thérèse St. Paul, Cinema International program director, and Dr. Christine Lindner, professor of history, about the upcoming screenings.

"This movie traces the journey of two young women overcoming different circumstances," Lindner begins. "As migrants, as refugees, from Syria through Turkey, they're crossing the boat into Greece, and then their journey as being refugees in Germany, and how they overcome a series of hurdles and events that they end up competing for the refugee team in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That was in 2016."

Lindner, who is also president of West Kentucky NOW, a social justice organization that seeks to bring attention to issues of human rights, including a focus on gender and racial inequalities, is proud to announce that West Kentucky NOW is sponsoring the film with Cinema International. "West Kentucky NOW is part of community conversations in exploring and advocating for women and exploring the different challenges and issues that women face both here in West Kentucky but also highlighting issues nationally and globally," she says.

The Swimmers takes place on the backdrop of significant social change experienced in North Africa and the Middle East during the 2010s, with citizens rising up and demanding social change from long-standing authoritarian leaders like in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. Lindner says during these conflicts, everyone is affected, whether they support or oppose the regime in power.

“This was part of many different countries and people across the Middle East in the Arab world rising up advocating and asking for dignity and basic human rights,” Lindner said. “In Syria, this was really shocking. This was really seen as very surprising that people would rise up against the president and ask for basic human rights. And this movie is set in 2015 and 2016.”

The war led to a mass exodus of Syrians from the war-torn country, with people often walking with just what they could carry. This led to a migrant crisis in Europe with a large influx of refugees moving into neighboring, more developed countries. “We often call it the migrant crisis; we have about over a million Syrians and others, people being internally displaced in the country, within Syria, as well as in local, regional countries like Lebanon, where I was living during the early part of this. And in Turkey, as well as migrating into Europe,” Lindner says. “This story gives us a glimpse of the realities of how people across the spectrum in Syria, whether you're pro-government, your pro-revolution, your middle class or upper class, have impacted all of society.”

This large influx of migrants led to backlash from European nations, who often punished people who would try to help the migrants on their journey as a disincentivizing attempt to keep people from entering their country. “We see across Europe during 2015 and 2016, a real backlash against the refugee crisis, where we see right-wing groups coming to power and advocating an anti-immigrant refugee position, charging people who are providing aid or government institutions, like NGOs who were kind of informal networks, criminalizing those informal networks as a backlash against the initial support that many of the governments provided,” Lindner explains.

Lindner said it was important to remember the context in which the film is being screened; she says the migrant crisis is not at the top of people’s minds right now, but there is still anti-immigrant sentiment in our mainstream politics and society, even touching the Western Kentucky area. She said she hopes the film will show the benefits of being more inclusive and that having diverse voices is a good thing and not bad, as some might have you believe.

“We still have a continued negative perception of migrants here in the United States. We had an anti-immigration speaker come to campus just last week; we're talking about situations just over the weekend, possible white supremacist groups marching just as close by as Paducah,” Lindner said. “There is a problem of people viewing us versus them and not being as inclusive as we like to believe that we are. So this film hopefully will show you the benefits of being more inclusive, having equity, and including more people into our lives and the benefits that that has for us.”

Murray State University's Cinema International presents The Swimmers on Thursday, February 29, and Saturday, March 2, at 7:30 pm in Faculty Hall, room 208, on Murray State's main campus. The screenings and post-screening discussions are free and open to the public. For more information on the Cinema International program, including upcoming screenings and how to donate, visit its website.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “River City Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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