Opening the Door to a New Future


They say that, when one door closes, another one opens. That may be hard to envision, and even more difficult to see, at the time that predecessor portal slams shut. It can easily leave us disillusioned, bitter and hopeless. However, during these transitionary periods, it may take some time for that new entry way to open up. And we often may not realize we’ve walked through it until we find ourselves in vastly different – and often quite rewarding – circumstances. The trick, of course, is leaving ourselves open to the possibility and making the effort to recognize it when it occurs. Such is the scenario explored in the uplifting new documentary, “Wildcat” (web site, trailer).

When British soldier Harry Turner returned home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was a changed person – and not in a good way. Having witnessed the unspeakable carnage of war firsthand, he came away from the experience severely distraught, afflicted with PTSD, depression and suicidal thoughts. He truly began to believe that there was nothing worth living for, and he gave serious thought to ending his life. He consequently packed up his belongings and headed to the Peruvian rainforest, where he had intended to lose himself and move on to a hoped-for happier existence. And, in a strange sort of way, he did just that, even if it didn’t take the form he had expected.

When distraught former British soldier Harry Turner traveled to the Peruvian rainforest to end his life, he found new purpose as a wildlife restoration trainer for abandoned ocelots, as depicted in the uplifting new documentary, “Wildcat.” Photo by Trevor Frost, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Once in the rainforest, he was taken with the sheer beauty of his new environment. He even landed a job rescuing orphaned wildlife, working with conservationist/scientist Samantha Zwicker, who eventually became his partner. Harry was particularly passionate about a program to prepare abandoned ocelots for return to the wild, a project that gave him a purpose and a new reason for living. He sought to teach the rescued cats how to survive in the wild, independent of human care and support. And, given his experience in the wilds of the battlefield, he was well suited to the task. Simultaneously, though, it gave him a chance to provide much-needed nurturing to the wild beasts, something that helped him heal his own wounds.

The benefits of this experience helped Harry to get over the pain he experienced during the war. The fact that he was able to help his feline friends, Khan and Keanu, enabled him to overcome the anguish he experienced in response to the death of Afghan citizens who were killed right in front of him, innocents for whom he was unable to do anything. These memories haunted him severely and for a long time afterward, but his efforts at helping the jungle cats provided him much comfort in coming to terms with those wartime tragedies – and confirmed that he was indeed able to be of service to those in need.

However, even with the fulfillment and healing this experience provided, Harry still struggled with his mental health demons at times, especially when the challenges of helping the ocelots became too great. This was most apparent when it came time to cut the attachment cord. While Harry knew that this inevitability would eventually surface, he found it difficult to let go. Ironically, at the same time, he became exasperated whenever the cats refused to let go of him, leaving Harry feeling as though he had failed at achieving his ultimate goal of being able to train them for survival on their own in the wild.

The distress of these events put a strain on Harry’s relationship with Samantha. She struggled to provide comfort and support as the progress at restoring his mental health began to unravel. In addition to their professional and romantic partnership, Samantha also served as a de facto therapist to help him get back on his feet. But there was only so much she could do, and, as their relationship continued to deteriorate, these developments threw circumstances into serious jeopardy, both for their future together and for Harry’s psychological well-being, not to mention the continued viability of their wildlife restoration program.

Working with abandoned ocelots to return them to the wild, conservationist/scientist Samantha Zwicker and her star “pupil,” Keanu, work toward a return to jungle life in “Wildcat.” Photo by Trevor Frost, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Harry wasn’t the only one battling personal demons in this scenario. Samantha’s struggle to help Harry was an attempt to reconcile her feelings toward her late father, who battled alcoholism. Through her relationship with Harry, she could relate to the pain of her dad, someone she desperately wanted to help but couldn’t. The parallels between Harry and Samantha’s father were uncanny, too; when Harry was able to heal himself, his compassionate side surfaced, much like what happened to Samantha’s father when he wasn’t drinking. But the specter of backsliding always lingered. Thus the way these situations mirrored one another provided Samantha with an opportunity to address an old hurt, particularly when it came to the question of holding on or letting go – not unlike what Harry faced when it came to his relationship with his feline companions.

“Wildcat” is thus a story that goes beyond what one would find in a typical nature film. It operates on multiple levels with numerous parallels between the lives of the individuals and between the respective circumstances of man and beast. This takes things to a more profound level, one that provides viewers with an array of meaningful lessons and messages, one whose impact extends beyond its mere surface trappings and that stirs the spirit in myriad ways.

It’s quite astounding how some of the unlikeliest of stories can teach us so many valuable truths, and they’re certainly in abundance in this film. In large part, that’s attributable to the themes that permeate the narrative, notions driven by the thoughts, beliefs and intents of the principal players in this scenario. Those resources are important given the role they play in manifesting the reality we experience through the power of these intangible resources. It’s unclear whether anyone in this story had heard of this school of thought, but they certainly drew upon its principles in creating an existence that taught them valuable lessons and set them on a promising new path for the future.

Considering how the lives of Harry and Samantha unfolded prior to their jungle experience, they were both ripe for a fresh start, and the Peruvian rainforest provided them with the perfect venue to begin anew. For Harry, it gave him a new purpose in life, something that he needed in the wake of his difficult time in Afghanistan, and it came at a time when he wondered if such a prospect was even possible. Somewhere deep down inside his consciousness, he must have believed in such a possibility, even if it wasn’t readily apparent to him. However, when the opportunity surfaced, he had the wherewithal to recognize what it meant, and he ran with it, setting him off on a meaningful and productive path for his future. It not only gave him a chance to contribute something worthwhile, but it also provided him with the means to heal himself in the wake of his wartime experience.

In finding a new purpose for his life, former British soldier Harry Turner teaches abandoned ocelots how to safely return to the wilds of the Peruvian rainforest in the stirring new documentary, “Wildcat.” Photo by Trevor Frost, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

For Samantha, meeting Harry provided her with an opportunity to address the unresolved feelings she held toward her father. On some level, it’s possible that she believed in a need to draw to her the conditions required to take on that task, something she might not have been aware of at the outset of this experience. It gave her the chance to decide on whether it was preferable to hold on or let go, both in terms of her unanswered questions about her dad and her feelings about her future with Harry.

In this sense, the overarching conditions present in this story serve as mirrors for what Harry and Samantha both felt and believed. The world around them thus reflected what they were feeling, and it provided the means to address those emotions. It gave them an ideal environment for learning valuable lessons about life and about themselves. Who would have thought that a remote rainforest could provide such perfectly tailored resources for personal growth and development?

To a great degree, the suitability behind this is related to the innate sense of connection binding these individuals to their circumstances and environment. Harry and Samantha, for example, are fittingly bound to one another in terms of what they need to get out of this scenario. Likewise, Harry’s connections to Keanu and Khan provide him with what he needs to embark on a new direction in life, to heal himself and to overcome the pain he endured when he was unable to help those in need in Afghanistan. And, on a grander scale, the work that Harry and Samantha jointly undertook in Peru connected them to the wider world and its needs for conservation, wildlife protection and environmental sustainability. These ties may not be obvious at first glance, but they’re all there nevertheless, and they’ve all been brought about through the beliefs held by those involved in this collaborative co-creation.

What’s most important here, though, is the sense of compassion that has been evoked, an outcome again attributable to the beliefs of those involved. It’s amazing how many different ways that quality is manifested here, too. From the care Harry shows toward his ocelots to the concern Samantha shows toward Harry to the benevolence that Harry and Samantha exhibit toward our collective world, there’s ample kindness to be had for all in a situation like this. For the cynics out there, this is definitive proof positive debunking their dubious contentions, and it’s something we can never have enough of, especially these days.

As adorable as they might look, ocelots are wild beasts of the jungle, some of whom need to be trained on how to survive there when abandoned, as seen in “Wildcat,” the new documentary from directors Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh, now available for streaming online. Photo by Trevor Frost, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

When one is spiraling downward and hopes for the future look dim, it may seem that there’s no coming back from one’s troubles. So it was for Harry Turner, who ultimately proved that need not be the case, as this documentary so eloquently depicts. This intimate look at a complex, troubled individual, what drives him, what nearly destroyed him and what enabled his redemption tugs at the heart strings in many ways, especially in its ample footage of the positively adorable felines and their intuitive bonds with their human mentor. The picture’s gorgeous cinematography and emotive score add much to this film’s heartwarming narrative, though its length is arguably somewhat excessive given the scope of the subject matter (and could have easily benefitted from some judicious editing). Nevertheless, directors Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh have compiled an uplifting, candid chronicle of this inspiring though sometimes-painful story, one that gives hope where it’s absent and provides even the most downtrodden among us with new reasons to carry on. As one of the National Board of Review’s Top 5 Documentaries of 2022, this stirring tale is well worth a view. The film is available for streaming online.

As this film so aptly illustrates, there’s a “wildcat” in each of us yearning to break free and live the lives we were meant to live. But bringing those unbridled, impulsive versions of ourselves to the surface takes a firm commitment to beliefs that make such outcomes possible. Should we follow through on that, though, we have an opportunity to open those doors to a vibrant new future. Just ask Harry and those jungle cats of his – and then go out and roar for yourself.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

The Best and Worst of 2022


With 2022 now in the books, it’s time for my wrap-up of the best and worst in the year’s movies. The results can be found in three blogs on my web site, “The Best of 2022” and “The Worst of 2022,” both of which deal with narrative features, and “The Best and Worst of 2022 in Documentaries,” whose title should be self-explanatory.

So what pictures made the cut in each case? Check out these posts to see how the year’s releases fared.

New Movies for February

Join Good Media Network Movie Correspondent Brent Marchant and show host Frankie Picasso for five new movie reviews on the next edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast! The show, to begin airing Thursday February 23 at 1 pm ET, will also feature a few additional special announcements, as well as predictions for the top six categories at the upcoming Oscars (to be followed shortly by a new blog post on the subject at Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!

Applauding Recovery and Redemption

Getting back on one’s feet after a hard fall can be unbearably difficult. In addition to the strength and stamina required to stand back up, there are those poised to keep the downtrodden on the ground, their boots firmly and mercilessly planted on those making the valiant effort to lift themselves up. But recovery and redemption are possible with the right mix of affirmed beliefs and concerted followup actions, an outcome explored in the gripping new fact-based drama, “To Leslie” (web site, trailer).

There was a time when everybody thought Leslie Rowlands (Andrea Riseborough) was on top of the world. When she hauled in a windfall from a Texas lottery win, she became a local celebrity and was seen as having enough money to make her and her young son, James (Drew Youngblood), happy and contented for a long time, if not for the rest of their lives. If only things had turned out that way.

Years later, Leslie is penniless and without a home. She’s lost everything, including not only her winnings, but also her possessions, friends and family, as well as whatever reliability and credibility she may have had. Her now-older son (Owen Teague) left town some time ago to go out and make it on his own. And, with no hopeful prospects of her own in sight, Leslie is at her wit’s end. Of course, that can happen when one crawls into a bottle and stays there until all of one’s funds are used up, which, unfortunately, is precisely what happened to her.

Texas lottery winner Leslie Rowlands (Andrea Riseborough) may seem to have it made with her unexpected windfall, but a little too much celebrating leaves her destitute and in need of recovery, as seen in the new fact-based drama, “To Leslie.” Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Now older (but not necessarily wiser), Leslie looks for a fresh start. She asks James if she can come stay with him while she gets her act together, a plan that, at his insistence, includes getting sober. However, despite her assurances to the contrary, she’s soon up to her old tricks – sneaking drinks, stealing money from her son and one of his friends, and partying with the neighbors – essentially going back on all the promises she made. It’s not long before she hits the road to return to her old hometown in west Texas, all in hopes that she’ll find some sympathy to her plight, despite the many bridges she burned before leaving there.

Leslie is reluctantly taken in by Nancy (Allison Janney) and Dutch (Stephen Root), who took care of James when she was no longer capable of doing so. Nancy and Dutch give her a stiff warning that she’s out if she relapses into her old ways, which, not unexpectedly, happens rather quickly, leaving her homeless once again. The way things are going, it seems like she’ll never break this cycle.

When one bottoms out, the best one can hope for is the appearance of a Samaritan, and, fortunately for Leslie, one shows up in the personage of Sweeney (Marc Maron), the owner of a local motel. He takes pity on her and gives her a job, as well as a room to call home. But, even with such generous benevolence, Leslie still doesn’t learn her lesson, backsliding every time it seems she’s starting to get her act together. It also doesn’t help that Leslie comes under more than her share of relentless criticism from others, including Sweeney’s friend Royal (Andre Royo), another hard luck case who Sweeney took in years ago and whp constantly says she can’t be trusted, and Leslie’s judgmental parents, Helen (Lauren Letherer) and Raymond (Tom Virtue), who spew ample venom based on everything their friends Nancy and Dutch tell them.

But there comes a point when Leslie finally wakes up and sees who is truly in her corner. It inspires her to plunge herself into her work and to realistically start turning things around, including an inspiring new undertaking that could fill her with a genuine sense of personal pride and fulfillment – that is, if others will let her. Can she do it?

In an attempt to get back on her feet after a hard fall, Texas lottery winner Leslie Rowlands (Andrea Riseborough, right) seeks much-needed accommodation with her adult son, James (Owen Teague, left), in director Michael Morris’s debut feature, “To Leslie.” Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

In countless stories like these, viewers witness characters spiraling out of control, actions that some will take pity on and that others will shrug off and say “Serves them right.” But who’s right? In such scenarios, there are lessons all around to be learned, both by those who find themselves in the middle of these circumstances and by the onlookers in terms of how they react. Such situations, tragic though they are, nevertheless arise from the choices made by all involved, materializations that, in their own singular way, afford opportunities to learn valuable life lessons. And those lessons arise as a result of the thoughts, beliefs and intents that manifest them. Those involved in these circumstances may not be aware of this school of thought, but it makes possible the conditions to address the intentions that underlie them, for better or worse and no matter how easy or difficult they may be to endure.

Consider Leslie’s situation, for example. She may have never experienced the kind of powerlessness she undergoes here, and she might not have ever been the beneficiary of the kind of heartfelt compassion she receives from Sweeney. Likewise, Nancy, Dutch, Helen and Raymond, among others, may have never had an opportunity to engage in meaningful forgiveness, remaining mired in a relentlessly scornful pattern typified by continually berating those who are having difficulty getting back on their feet. These dynamics, however, make it possible to transform both of the foregoing outcomes. These co-created experiences may not be the most palatable way to go through such scenarios, but they may nevertheless be “ideal” in terms of the conditions they afford to make such opportunities attainable.

Some might see such situations as pointless and needlessly arduous, but, if they yield the opportunities to learn these valuable life lessons, can one truly say they’re without merit? Likewise, when one examines the circumstances prevailing in the lives of these characters, they may be seen as hopeless and unchangeable. However, should these individuals have a change of heart as a result of these conditions, they all have an opportunity to learn the power of redemption, a truly rewarding and empowering experience, one that they can carry forward in their lives and employ elsewhere should comparable conditions ever arise again. There’s certainly something to be said for that.

Motel owner and compassionate Samaritan Sweeney (Marc Maron) is a sucker for hard luck cases, routinely helping out those most in need of assistance, as seen in director Michael Morris’s debut feature, “To Leslie,” now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Moreover, the wisdom that comes from these insights significantly increases the likelihood of not repeating such past errors. When we go through painful experiences like these, they tend to leave indelible marks on our psyches and consciousness, imprints that tend to steer us away from backsliding and recurrences. Indeed, we can choose different paths for ourselves; addiction and unwavering prejudice need not be fixed fates, provided we alter the beliefs that brought them into being and prompt us to chart new courses. Here’s to Leslie, as well as to those who were once unwilling to give her a break, on the new paths they forge.

The story in “To Leslie” may be a familiar one, but there are enough elements to distinguish it from other pictures about the pains of addiction and recovery to make for a compelling watch. What works best in director Michael Morris’s debut feature are the performances of the superb ensemble cast, including Janney, Root, Maron, Royo and Teague. But the most notable attribute of this release is the positively outstanding portrayal of Riseborough, handily the best of her career. The film’s fittingly atmospheric soundtrack and ethereal cinematography significantly enhance the actions on screen and effectively capture the mood of the narrative underlying its fine screenplay. To be sure, the pacing could stand to be stepped up somewhat at times, and some story elements become slightly repetitive, particularly toward the end of the first hour. But, considering the picture’s many assets, it’s easy to see how this offering has been named one of the National Board of Review’s Top 10 Independent Films of 2022. Catch this one online.

It’s impossible to talk about this film without focusing on Riseborough’s performance, which has, regrettably, become quite a point of contention. As a superb portrayal that has been largely overlooked throughout this movie awards season (save for an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best lead acting performance), it was truly gratifying when Riseborough’s name was called as an Oscar nominee for best lead actress. Yet, in the wake of that announcement and several high-profile snubs in this category, there are those who have leveled claims of impropriety against the awarding of her nomination for this little-known film, specifically with regard to campaigning efforts to promote her bid. Some have even suggested that, if improprieties are indeed uncovered, Riseborough could be disqualified. However, just because the film and the actress’s performance have flown below the radar, that doesn’t mean impropriety has to be involved. In fact, Riseborough has had many Hollywood heavy hitters backing her candidacy, including fellow best actress nominee Cate Blanchett. What would a fellow competitor stand to gain by openly and glowingly supporting an opponent?

Bouncing back from adversity is difficult, but Texas lottery winner Leslie Rowlands (Andrea Riseborough) struggles to do so in the new fact-based drama, “To Leslie,” now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

I’m not sure what’s behind this controversy. It could be sour grapes. It could be an attempt to torpedo Riseborough’s chances now that she has been given an opportunity to take home the big prize. But, given the fact that a little-known film performance has been able to make a successful breakthrough, does that automatically and necessarily suggest that something improper has occurred here? If that were the case, then one could just as easily apply that principle against other lesser-known performers and films that manage to attain Oscar nomination recognition, such as, for example, Paul Mescal’s performance in “Aftersun” (yet no one has even hinted at anything like that where this nomination is concerned). Indeed, has no one ever heard of the concept of the underdog? Unexpected nominations, for better or worse, occur almost every year, so why has this situation been so suspiciously singled out? The claims against Riseborough’s nomination strike me as being just as spurious as the contentions of the detractors themselves, and that, to me, seems like the real impropriety here.

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that redeeming oneself from circumstances like those portrayed here can be a challenging journey. Compensating for years of questionable behavior and the heartache it often inflicts on others takes a lot of hard work. But bouncing back is attainable, benefiting not only oneself, but also in terms of helping to change the hearts and minds of those convinced that recovery and redemption are impossible. The potential is indeed there; all we need do is invoke it to make it happen. And what a blessing that is when it occurs.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Beating the Odds


When the odds are stacked against us, it may be easy to turn our backs to the challenges confronting us. Such scenarios could readily be viewed as simply too daunting, not worth the expenditure of time, energy and commitment needed to overcome them. However, in considering the potential rewards available, it’s possible to have a change of heart, prompting us to take them on, regardless of the downsides involved. Some may see such undertakings as Quixotic tasks, but others may look upon them as an opportunity for personal growth, a chance to stretch and unearth capabilities we never knew we had. Such are the possibilities explored in the new, fact-based drama, “The Swimmers” (web site, trailer).

It’s 2011, and the teenage Mardini sisters, Yusra (Nathalie Issa) and Sara (Mana Issa), enjoy a comfortable life in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria. As avid competitive swimmers, they spend a lot of their time at a lavishly appointed local pool, a fun-filled setting that looks like something out of a California resort. They have a happy home life, too, cared for by their loving parents, Mervat (Kinda Alloush) and Ezzat (Ali Suliman), who doubles as his daughters’ swimming coach. And dad is apparently doing quite a good job with the girls, especially Yusra, who’s been setting some impressive times in the pool, making her a viable candidate not only for national competitions, but also as a Syrian athlete representative for the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Competitive swimmer Yusra Mardini (Nathalie Issa) hopes to represent her native Syria in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but the country’s civil war threatens that dream, as seen in the fact-based drama, “The Swimmers,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Working Title Films.

However, circumstances change drastically over the next four years as Syria’s civil war heats up. By 2015, conditions become treacherous, as seen in an attack on an aquatic center where Yusra is competing in a swim meet, a harrowing experience in which she’s forced to dodge bombs as they drop into the pool. But that’s not all: power outages, invasive public searches by lecherous, leering soldiers, and mounting difficulty doing even the most basic routine tasks all make everyday living increasingly unbearable as missiles zoom overhead. And that doesn’t even take into account Yusra’s rapidly disappearing dream of becoming an Olympian.

As the conflict intensifies, thousands of Syrians begin fleeing the country, seeking to make their way to Europe to find safety. Germany soon emerges as the preferred destination, given its generous assistance to refugees, including an asylum program open to those under 18 that allows them to stay and enables their families to emigrate there for reunification. Sara and Yusra, who’s now 17, plead their case to their parents about joining the exodus, hoping they’ll reach Berlin while Yusra is still eligible to file for asylum for her family. However, considering the dangers of the journey, Ezzat and Mervat are skeptical about their daughters’ proposal, but the girls are emphatic, contending that the window of opportunity for escape is closing with Yusra’s upcoming birthday. It’s also an undertaking Yusra believes she must pursue if she’s to keep her Olympic dream alive.

Realizing that Yusra and Sara don’t have many options open to them, Ezzat and Mervat reluctantly agree to their request, but they insist that they have a male chaperone accompany them in light of the dangers that lie ahead. So the sisters tap their cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek), to join them on their trek. And so, before long, the three freedom seekers embark on a journey that they hope will give them everything they’re looking for.

The film then follows the trio as they make their way from Syria to Europe. Their travels start off rather comfortably on a flight from Damascus to Istanbul, Turkey. But, once they reach that jumping off point, circumstances grow considerably more questionable and uncertain, beginning with a precarious Mediterranean Sea crossing to Greece in a rubber raft overloaded with refugees – and that necessitates the sisters having to draw upon their natural athletic talents to help them and their peers survive. They then make their way through the Balkans, largely on foot and occasionally separated from one another, often facing a variety of hazards from authorities, police dogs and sleazy opportunists.

Syrian sisters Yusra (Nathalie Issa, left) and Sara Mardini (Manal Issa, center), along with their cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek, right), recover on the Greek island of Lesbos after a difficult sea crossing from Turkey in their effort to seek asylum in Germany, as seen in “The Swimmers.” Photo courtesy of Working Title Films.

As this ordeal unfolds, however, Yusra, Sara and Nizar learn much about themselves. That’s particularly true when it comes to discovering the depth of their resilience, fortitude, stamina and resourcefulness. They also make new friends, such as Emad (James Krishna Floyd), a refugee from Pakistan, and Shada (Nahel Tzegai), a young mother from Somalia fleeing her abusive husband with her young infant in tow. Together they foster a camaraderie that helps to make the journey more bearable, especially in providing valuable assistance to one another when the need arises. It all eases the difficulty of this undertaking – and helps to keep everyone focused as they move ever closer to their goal.

Upon their arrival in Berlin, Nizar and the sisters at last heave a huge sigh of relief. They once again enjoy accommodations more comfortable than anything they’ve had in ages. And they meet with compassionate officials who genuinely seem to have their best interests at heart, both in fulfilling their immediate needs and helping to start the process of bringing their family out of Syria. What’s more, it’s not long before Yusra meets a swimming coach, Sven (Matthias Schweighöfer), who’s impressed by her abilities and is willing to help train her for competition, including a possible Olympic bid.

More good news arrives shortly thereafter when the International Olympic Committee announces that it has authorized the formation of a team for refugee athletes, those who are talented enough to compete but hail from countries that are unable to send a delegation to the Rio games. Sven is thrilled to tell Yusra that she qualifies for that opportunity, though she’s hesitant, insisting that she wants to compete for Syria. However, given that such a treasured possibility won’t happen, Yusra must now decide whether she’ll participate under the conditions being offered to her or hold out for something that’s unlikely to ever happen. She earnestly has to ask herself, “Is this worth everything I went through, or am I unwilling to settle if I can’t make things happen on my terms?” It’s a decision for her that’s almost as difficult as the circumstances she endured to reach this point. So what will she do?

An exodus of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria seek better lives for themselves in Europe as seen in director Sally El Hosaini’s fact-based drama, “The Swimmers,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Working Title Films.

If nothing else, the characters in this film illustrate what’s possible when we put our minds to it. That’s particularly true when it comes to the beliefs we embrace, and that’s important given the role they play in the manifestation of the reality we experience. As the odyssey of the Mardini sisters shows, we truly can beat the odds, no matter how daunting they may appear, if we believe in the possibility. While it’s unclear whether they’ve ever heard of this school of thought, it’s nevertheless obvious that they’re well versed in employing its principles to realize their goals.

In the process of doing this, it’s amazing how much we can learn about ourselves. For instance, as noted earlier, Yusra and Sara develop a newfound appreciation for the innate qualities they possess, attributes that had been lying dormant and were waiting to be unleashed. The resilience, fortitude, stamina and resourcefulness they unearth not only serve them well during their journey to Europe, but these traits also show them what they’re capable of in the face of subsequent challenges. They learn how to bounce back from – and surmount – adversity. They understand how to push past fears and limitations to come up with solutions needed for addressing the tasks at hand. And they understand how to get creative when conventional approaches are insufficient. In essence, they develop a new belief-based skill set that enables them to grow and develop in ways that they may have never thought possible.

This is especially intriguing when it comes to the relationship between the sisters. For many years, they were looked on as two peas from the same pod, even though they were fundamentally distinct from one another despite some common attributes, such as their love of swimming. This is apparent in Ezzat’s monodimensional view of his daughters; rather than seeing them as the multifaceted individuals they are, he looks upon them primarily from this singular viewpoint. Over time, however, the differences in their abilities in the pool evoke more than their share of unfair (and personally deflating) comparisons, especially for Sara when Ezzat repeatedly draws attention to the superior performance of her younger sister.

German swimming coach Sven (Matthias Schweighöfer, right) helps train Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini (Nathalie Issa, left, back to camera) in her bid to become an Olympic hopeful for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games, as depicted in the fact-based drama, “The Swimmers.” Photo courtesy of Working Title Films.

This leaves Sara in a position of having to discover herself. What distinguishes her as an individual? What talents does she bring to the table? She may share Yusra’s love of swimming, but she clearly isn’t as proficient as her sibling. So what can she do to make herself stand out? Sara’s talents may not be apparent at the time she leaves Damascus, but her exodus odyssey allows her gifts to surface and enables her to come into her own, much like Yusra but in different individual milieus. That’s because the beliefs that make those possibilities come to life become apparent to her – and allow her to thrive as her own person. The journey thus becomes a win-win scenario for all involved.

The overall experience also proves valuable for both sisters when it comes to learning how to make use of their capacities for discernment and discretion, especially when it comes to evaluating their choices, making decisions and understanding which beliefs they need to embrace in the implementation of these options. For Yusra, this becomes apparent in the decision she must make when it comes to choosing whether or not to compete as a member of the Olympic refugee athletic team. And, for Sara, this emerges when deciding how to step out of her sister’s shadow and into her own limelight. It’s a skill that serves them well not only in this situation, but that will also aid them as they get on with their lives.

The upshot of all this is that it allows us to become the individuals we’re meant to be, reflections of our true selves seeking to implement our personal destiny, being our best, truest selves for the betterment of ourselves and those around us. In doing so, we make it possible to inspire others, perhaps even touching them in meaningful ways, uplifting them to new heights of satisfaction and fulfillment while simultaneously doing the same for ourselves. Who would have thought that all of this would have arisen just by spending some time in the pool?

Competitive swimmer Yusra Mardini (Nathalie Issa) seeks to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but the civil war of her native Syria threatens that dream, as seen in the fact-based drama, “The Swimmers,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Working Title Films.

There’s something truly inspiring about beating seemingly impossible odds, accomplishments that stir our emotions and may even produce a significant adrenalin rush. Such are the feelings evoked in writer-director Sally El Hosaini’s new fact-based chronicle about a pair of sisters who fled their war-torn Syrian homeland to seek sanctuary in Germany. While this BAFTA Award nominee for Best British Film runs a little long (especially in the depiction of the sisters’ flight to freedom), the picture nevertheless shines a bright light on the global refugee crisis (and not just among those fleeing Syria) and what’s attainable when we set our minds to taking on imposing tasks. This Netflix offering certainly delivers an uplifting message, as well as a candid look at sibling relationships and how they evolve over time, a dynamic effectively brought to life by the casting of real-life sisters in the lead roles. Admittedly, the picture tends to be somewhat formulaic at times, but its compelling story and creative cinematography do much to sell the film as a genuine crowd-pleaser, one that’s particularly empowering to girls, young women and those who dare to dream big in the face of potentially insurmountable challenges.

Dreaming big can be looked upon as both inspiring and foolhardy. And both outcomes are entirely possible. What distinguishes them, though, is how we approach the situation, particularly the beliefs we hold going in. Some would say that our degree of “realism” is the determining factor in such scenarios, but it’s incredible to see how often inspiration trumps this quality. It’s on that point where the power of our beliefs steps to the forefront. To be sure, there’s no point to pursuing objectives backed by unrealistic or unsupported intents, but, when we infuse our efforts with the necessary conviction and enthusiasm, there’s no telling what we can accomplish. It’s at times like that when the sufficiently motivated among us need to dive right in and tackle the tasks at hand. With the right attitude and ample fortitude, we just might surprise ourselves – and everybody else.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

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