Toronto honours Queen Elizabeth as Netflix refugee drama opens film festival
The Toronto film festival began in a sombre mood on Thursday as theatres dimmed their lights for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II before a Netflix drama about Syrian refugees launched North America's most prominent movie gathering.
The Princess of Wales and Royal Alexandra theatres – both festival venues named for members of Britain's royal family – switched off their marquee signs as news spread of the death of the Commonwealth monarch.
"As we gather to celebrate the power of film to move us and to illuminate our world, I want to acknowledge the passing today of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II," said festival head Cameron Bailey.
"Our thoughts go out to everyone here and around the world mourning her loss."
"Ninety-six is a fantastic age, but I just think it's sad," said actor Matthias Schweighofer, on the red carpet for his opening night film The Swimmers.
The drama tells the true story of Syrian sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini, who nearly drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 as they tugged a rubber boat packed with refugees to a Greek island.
Their heroics drew international attention, and a year later, Yusra won her heat in the Rio Olympics as part of the Games' first ever refugee team.
As well as showing the Mardinis' harrowing journey, The Swimmers aims to put a relatable face on refugees. It portrays the sisters' carefree lives before war arrived, and their bitter bemusement at finding European tourists frolicking in the same sea they had barely survived crossing hours earlier.
"We really hope that it will change the mind of a lot of people, because a lot of people have a wrong image of refugees," Nathalie Issa, who plays Yusra, told AFP.
"I know how badly (people in the West) are seeing the refugees, I know how Arabs are seen, I know how they portray them in films," added Manal Issa, playing Sara.
Andrew Marszal for AFP