Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page


Malala's Story
"They thought that the bullet would silence us. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born." - Malala Yousafzai

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai's young life was abruptly altered. That was the watershed day she and two of her friends, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, were shot on their school bus by an armed Taliban brigade in Pakistan's lush Swat Valley. A bullet entered Malala's left brow, requiring extensive surgery and a titanium plate to fix the damage. But though the gun wreaked physical havoc, it did not touch what made Malala so astonishing: a fierce intelligence, commitment and compassion that belied her youth.

She was just 15 years old. Yet, Malala had already drawn the world's attention with her voice. In 2009, she began writing a daring, anonymous blog for the BBC expressing her views on education and documenting life in the Swat Valley as the Taliban banned music and television, made it impossible for women to leave their homes to shop and severely curtailed schooling for girls. Though the blog was halted, she continued speaking out in the international press and in 2011 Malala received Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize. Shortly after, at a meeting of Taliban leaders, a vote decided that the teenager should be assassinated.

Malala would recover but it would not be easy. She had to make a new life in the far-away town where she'd been evacuated for expert medical care: Birmingham, England. For the time being, it is not safe to return to her beloved home in Pakistan.

The bullet that nearly ended Malala's life thrust her into the limelight, as this unthinkable attack on a young girl awoke the world to her story of valor. But that story is really just beginning. As she has worked tirelessly to recover, Malala has refused to step back or compromise her beliefs. Instead of going silent, Malala was determined to continue her campaign. She carved out a new, unprecedented role as an advocate for girls and children everywhere - for refugees, for kids in war zones, for all children who lack access to schools or an education - with the same fearlessness with which she lived before the shooting.

Undeterred by new physical challenges, she continued her work in the UK, while figuring out how to be herself in a completely new culture. She co-founded the Malala Fund with her father Ziauddin and Shiza Shahid, which advocates globally for girls' education, she wrote a best-selling book, I Am Malala (with Christina Lamb), she gave a rousing speech at the United Nations and she began travelling the world to plead for children's rights.

In December of 2014, in the midst of the making of HE NAMED ME MALALA, Malala became the youngest person in history to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She received the award jointly with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's rights advocate.


"My father only gave me the name Malalai. He didn't make me Malalai. I chose this life." -Malala

In the beginning, HE NAMED ME MALALA was not intended to be a documentary.

On the contrary, producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who are known for powerful screen dramas including GLADIATOR, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, THE KITE RUNNER and FLIGHT, envisioned a compelling narrative feature after reading early sample pages of Malala's autobiography.

"When you come across a true story like this -- and suddenly you see real, authentic courage in the face of terrible odds on behalf of this simple universal right to girls' education - as filmmakers, you can't help but be very drawn to that," recalls Parkes.

Adds MacDonald: "There were all these beautiful, mythic elements to Malala's story, beginning with the reality that she was named for an Afghani Pashtun female warrior and poetess who was killed for speaking out and Malala ended up almost meeting the same fate but miraculously recovered. Then there were the intriguing elements of her relationship with her family and the setting in the Swat Valley, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but went from paradise to hell in a few short years as the Taliban took control. So we were very moved by what we read."

Parkes and MacDonald traveled to England to talk in person with Malala and her family. But as soon as they got to Birmingham, something unexpected happened that changed the whole thrust of the film: they were enraptured by the spirit of Malala and the chemistry of the Yousafzai family.

"Laurie and I came away from our first meeting feeling that no actor could possibly portray Malala," recalls Parkes. "I mean she is just so singular as a human being. We realized a documentary approach would be a far more powerful way to tell her story and let audiences get to know her. We also wanted Malala and her family to feel a kind of creative and emotional ownership of her story. So we reversed course, and brought on Davis Guggenheim, a man of tremendous curiosity, a sharp intellect and true humanism. With his singular gifts as a documentarian and passionate interest in education, we knew he would be the perfect director for the film."

Guggenheim has become synonymous with documentaries that cross over into the popular culture. His own father, an Academy Award-winning documentarian in his own right, had a huge influence on his life. He sparked rounds of impassioned climate change debate with the Academy Award-winning and still oft-discussed AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. He followed that with the equally incendiary WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, an emotional tour through the American public education system, which garnered the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Then he went on tour with U2 in FROM THE SKY DOWN, which became the first documentary in history to open the Toronto Film Festival.

One thing that has set Guggenheim apart in his career is that he isn't drawn to exposés or takedowns. Quite the opposite: he makes films about themes and people who move him to the core. "Some people make documentaries about people they don't like or they even hate. I make documentaries about people I love," muses the director.

That being said, Guggenheim is interested in peeling back layers and revealing people he admires as they haven't been seen before; thus, many people felt they saw a more honest, human side to Al Gore in AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH that had been missing even from his Presidential campaign. This search for what makes people tick was more important than ever in his approach to Malala.

"I think the challenge I feel with well-known subjects is to go deeper than anybody else has - to ask, how do I really reveal this person?" asks Guggenheim. "I felt had to go in a very personal direction. It had to really get inside the family's life and enter their home and be with them in a very close-up kind of way."

Parkes says that Guggenheim was a perfect match for the task of entering the Yousafzai's family life in a probing but unobtrusive way. "Davis' great power is his curiosity about the world," observes the producer, "which translates into his being a tremendous listener and a tremendous asker of questions. So what you end up seeing in his interviews is authentically and uniquely of the moment. You feel like you are being thrust into a spontaneous, intimate relationship with Malala and her family."

MacDonald continues: "Davis is not just a remarkable filmmaker but a remarkable connector to people. He is the kind of person you would trust your life with, which allows him I think to go very deep. We knew he would find a great family story to be told. Davis also brings a tremendous passion for issues of education, and having daughters himself, he related to this story in such a personal way."

Parkes and MacDonald brought the project to their long-standing production partners, Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation which immediately embraced and fully funded it. Participant Media, the company known for pursuing content that inspires social change subsequently joined Image Nation to co-finance the film. The synergy with Image Nation on HE NAMED ME MALALA was undeniable. "We not only have a long-standing relationship with Image Nation, but with the entire region. We produced THE KITE RUNNER, a film admired for its diverse depiction of Muslim characters, and I subsequently attended the US/Islamic Word Forum, sponsored by the Brookings Institute, for two years as a cultural representative," Parkes explains.

He continues: "We felt that given the religious and political sensitivities that we wanted Image Nation to be on board from the outset. I recall telling our partner Mohamed Al Mubarak about why we wanted to make this film about Malala, and he interrupted me after just a couple of sentences to say, 'Walter, she's everything we stand for.' We were filming her appearance at the UN on her 16th birthday just weeks later."

For Ziauddin Yousafzai, making the decision to allow a film crew into the heart of his family's inner circle was not simple, but he believed he had found the right partners.

"I felt as a father that we had just been through a very big trauma in our life and being followed by cameras might be difficult -- but we have always done things in our lives for a cause that is bigger than us," he comments. "Walter and Laurie motivated our family and then, after meeting Davis and getting to know him, I realized that we will never find anyone better than this man to tell this story about our campaign for global education ... David has something special in his personality. He can bring out the inner truths lying deep in your heart, and that's what we wanted to share with the world."


"I am afraid of no one." -Malala

For Davis Guggenheim, Malala's public image was one thing; but he was interested in what lay deep behind the oft-seen shots of her soft smile and clear-eyed gaze. He wanted the real, honest details of her daily life. What does she dream about?

How does she keep going? Has her relationships with her parents changed? Why does she continue to feel motivated to be a leader given all that she suffers?

To find out all of these things he would have to become part of her world - to not merely interview her but really get inside her thoughts and the family circle that means everything to her.

Guggenheim had no delusions; he was aware that cultural pitfalls could lie ahead. "It was a delicate thing," the director describes, "to tell a story about a family who have come from a very different culture. But the most important thing to me was to tell their story in a way that is respectful of and truthful about their experience. I didn't ever look at it as me telling their story. I looked at the film as a chance for them to tell their own story. We aimed for deep, intimate conversations - and I hope the result is that the audience feels the Yousafzai family is talking directly to them."

Guggenheim headed to Birmingham, England, where the Yousafzais have been living since 2012. It might seem an unlikely place for Malala and her family- this mid-sized industrial city in the geographic heart of England - but she has remained there since being taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for further treatment (Her emergency surgery to relieve pressure on her brain happened in Peshawar CMH hospital).

In their new home, Guggenheim found a boisterous, welcoming family atmosphere that set him at ease. He knew building a solid foundation of trust was key, but there is no magic formula for forging the bond between filmmaker and subject. Time and patience have to do their thing.

"The kind of trust you need is a trust you have to earn over time," Guggenheim explains. "But as we filmed the family in their home just doing everyday things -- making breakfast, going to school -- and as we filmed them travelling all over the world in moments both private and very public, we became very close. I grew to really, really love them, all of them, the entire family."

Ziauddin Yousafzai notes the feeling was mutual as Guggenheim became part of their family life. "He wanted to cover our family with great honesty so we tried to be true to ourselves and to our work. Right away from small things like my stammering to the big questions we faced, everything was put in front of the people," he notes. "Yet, Davis was always considerate of our traditions and culture."

Guggenheim was gratified to be so warmly welcomed into the tight-knit fold. "Sitting at their kitchen table was sheer joy," he recalls. "Everyone's very candid with each other, they're always laughing and telling stories. Often we'd end up singing, whether they were Pashtun songs or Bob Dylan. They're so alive as people. They can say some really cutting things to each other -- but then they laugh. I used to leave their house just buzzing with excitement, I had so much fun with them."

As it turned out, their cultural differences never felt much like differences at all. Guggenheim saw their Muslim faith and Pashtunwali (Pashtun code of life), though central to their lives, as driving their generosity, honesty and affection.

"I'm half Jewish, half Episcopalian, so I didn't know what to expect when I knocked on their door," Guggenheim confesses. "But I found a family much like mine. I found that their faith and rich traditions lead them in beautiful ways; it leads them to their willingness to forgive and to their desire to tell the truth, and to their sense of right and wrong. It was no different from the way faith operated in my house."

For Laurie MacDonald, this inside portrait of a Muslim family breaks open an important conversation in a time of debate over heightened intolerance. "I think it's fantastic that this film brings a Muslim family to the screen in a way everyone can relate to," says MacDonald. "Their values of kindness and forgiveness are a universal language."

Malala herself was excited to start filming but she had few reference points for what it would be like. Since she has arrived in England, Malala has learned to live with cameras following her in public but she knew this film would be something quite different. "This film delivers the story of a normal family," she says.

That normalcy is captured in ordinary moments with the Yousafzais. "We laugh, we fight, we talk, we enjoy our time," says Malala of her family. "I consider myself lucky to have such a family ... this is how children get inspired. This is how they get motivated to achieve something in their life."

Her father agrees that the family's love is paramount. "I think every family is like a tiny state. It has its own constitution, its own norms and values --and if those values are built on equality, justice, love, respect, every family can be amazing. Our values are why we are so happy," Ziauddin says.

Guggenheim's low-key approach helped break down barriers. "I usually start off doing interviews without a crew, without any lights, just sound," he explains. "My first interview was with Malala in her little office where she does her homework, and we just talked for three hours. I did the same with her father; we just sat and talked. But in the course of our conversations, they both found themselves saying things they've never said before. So that was the important part -helping them tell their full story. I tried not to ask questions so much from an intellectual place as from a human place."

This set Malala at ease. "It was a very powerful thing that he did. And it really helped me to speak whatever came to my heart. Davis has a way of exploring many things which are hidden inside your heart ... it just all comes out and you don't even realize it," she muses.

Later, she was pleased to have Guggenheim along for her trips to Africa and Jordan. "It was great to have someone capture these moments, which I want to always remember," she says. "During these journeys in the last two years, I have met many amazing girls, so now I feel like when I speak, I'm speaking on their behalf. And this has empowered my voice and made it stronger."


My mother would say, "It's written in the Holy Qur'an that truth has to come, and falsehood has to die." - Malala

In observing the Yousafzai family over a year and a half, Davis Guggenheim came to the conclusion that both parents had an equally indelible influence on the person Malala would become.

"It's a combination of Ziauddin and Toor Pekai that has created this incredible girl," the director says. "Ziauddin obviously has a close relationship with Malala. He has that wonderful quote: 'Don't ask me what I did. Ask me what I didn't do. I didn't clip her wings.' And there's that special moment when she's born and he says to her, you're equal to all the men that are on the family tree. But I also believe Toor Pekai is where Malala gets her moral strength and her faith."

"Malala's relationship with her father is a very special. But I think she is equal parts her mother," MacDonald says. "Toor Pekai is someone who observes cultural traditions and has a tremendous, yet quiet, strength, which I think has a lot to do with who Malala has become. Toor Pekai is a tremendously moral person. Perhaps because I'm a mother myself, I relate to Toor Pekai, who I think has raised this remarkable young woman to weather so much and come out of it stronger."

Malala is also seen bantering with her younger brothers, Khushal and Atal, constant thorns in her side no matter the situation. Recalls Malala: "Even when I won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first thing my little brother said was 'Look, you have got this prize, but it does not mean you can become a bossy sister.'"

Not surprisingly, while he was with her, Guggenheim often found Malala doing homework. She may be a celebrity but she walks the walk when it comes to education, including her own. "School is Malala's top priority and I think she really would love to be top of her class," observes Guggenheim. "But of course it's remarkable what she has accomplished. Imagine going to school in another country where the third or fourth language you've spoken is being taught, where your history classes are not about your own country but about another country's history. And she's doing really well."

Malala admits she still finds time for fun. "I do sometimes play games on my iPad, like Candy Crush, or sometimes I just read a book or watch TV. But I always have a lot of work to do for the Malala Fund as well as my homework, so I just have to try to divide it all equally," she explains.

Like any teen, Malala was a bit tongue-tied by the topics of love and boys, but Guggenheim broached the awkward subjects. "I have trouble asking my teenage son and daughter if they're dating. In fact, I wouldn't dare do it," he laughs. "But with Malala, you have a girl who can stand at the U.N. and speak eloquently in front of world leaders and powerful people, so it's easy to forget she's also just a teen trying to fit in. It was important to me to show this other side of her. Malala has this doubleness to her, which is very endearing. She's determined to change the world and she thinks at that very high level. Yet, she can be at home worrying about an exam and laughing with me about Roger Federer."

Walter Parkes adds: "Any teenage girl is in a minefield of emotions. But for someone who's just come to a new country and is in Malala's position, it's hard to imagine what she's going through. What's so great about Malala and what I think you see in the film is her honesty about those things. She fights with her mom and dad and beats up her brothers. She presents this wonderful dichotomy of being a world leader on the one hand and just like every teenage girl you've ever met on the other."

For MacDonald these scenes cut to the heart of the film's power to inspire. "Despite the fact that she's now a global leader of great consequence, what is so moving about Malala's story is that it is also the story of a regular girl. Her heroism grew out of the simplest most basic human right being taken from her - a right to an education - and she discovered her strong voice from that."

One place Malala would not go was discussing the depth of her physical and emotional suffering. Though Guggenheim can't know for sure why she won't speak about it, he guesses that it is because she has seen so many people suffering in the midst of war and repression - both at home and abroad - that she does not wish to draw attention away from others who have been through even worse.

"You know, a lot of the family's friends were killed," Guggenheim points out. "A lot of their friends are still suffering in Pakistan, so they don't see themselves as extraordinary. Still, it's truly remarkable that they have gone through hell, yet there's not an ounce of bitterness. You see it in the movie -- they're full of joy and hope, while many of us complain about much smaller things."

Parkes also has a theory about why Malala does not speak of her own travails. "I think her refusal to acknowledge her suffering is tied into her utter focus about what she's on this earth to do. I also think Ziauddin's assessment that the one who pulled the trigger on Malala wasn't a person but an ideology is really key here. From their point of view, a basic tenet of Islam is forgiveness, and they are walking examples of it. They channel everything into trying to make the world a better place."

Still, Guggenheim saw that Malala is still healing from her wounds, a process that may be life-long for her. "I think she was injured more than we really recognized," he says. "We see her speaking at the U.N. and she's so charismatic, but she had a nerve in her face severed that has been reattached and she's still getting movement back. She had bones around her ear that were shattered and her hearing on one side is not very good. But I never once heard her complain. She truly feels fortunate."

Malala sees her willingness to forgive as something natural. "I strongly believe that we should treat others the way we want them to treat us. It's a very simple thing: I want to be treated fairly, with justice, with love and friendliness -- so that's my attitude towards other people as well," she offers. "I think if I had anger against terrorists or the Taliban, it would not have any good outcome. I believe in patience and I believe in tolerance. I think that's the best way of living your life. "

For all his genuine admiration, Guggenheim did not want to skirt the controversies surrounding Malala - from the question of whether a child should have been allowed to put herself at such risk (a question her father, Ziauddin, struggles with poignantly in the film) to the concern of some Pakistanis that Malala is being used as a tool of Western countries (a concern Malala refutes, noting that she has criticized Western foreign policy and the loss of lives from U.S.-led drone strikes in the region.)

"The film had to engage with this controversial question: if you encourage your daughter to stand up at such a young age, have you put her in harm's way? It was a question that was asked at the time," notes MacDonald, "and we had a chance here to look at this question from both sides."

For Parkes, the choice to risk her life is one only Malala could make, but he is deeply moved that she did so. "As a father myself, I've asked myself if her position as a world leader is usurping her right to just be a teenager? Yet as she says in the movie, she's chosen this life. It wasn't chosen for her. It wasn't chosen by her dad. She chose it for herself because she believed that strongly."

Recently, Malala had a chance to watch HE NAMED ME MALALA, and she admits she felt a bit awkward, as anyone her age probably would, but she was won over. "It's hard to see yourself," she says with typical candor. "I don't ever like watching interviews or seeing my picture, so it was tough to watch. My father, he doesn't mind -- he watched his and especially my interviews three or four times! For me it was more difficult. But I was very impressed with how Davis made the film and especially the animation."


"When I was little, many people would say, 'Change Malala's name. It's a bad name, it means sad.' But my father would always say, 'No, it has another meaning. Bravery.'" -Malala

Malala admits in HE NAMED ME MALALA that she wasn't always sure she liked the name that has now become an iconic emblem of girls' rights and education across the globe. It was something she had to grow into. But for Davis Guggenheim, the story behind her name was at the center of his vision for the film - so much so that it became his title.

"I chose the title for its mystery. I hope people will come into the film wondering why did her father name her Malala? And why was that so important? The fact that Ziauddin, not knowing all that would happen to his daughter, named her after a girl who spoke out and was killed for her bravery will always be extraordinary. The act of naming her has deep repercussions and deep meaning in our film."

Ziauddin Yousafzai chose to call his daughter Malala because he wanted a name that would always remind her of the power she could have as a woman. So he named her after one of the greatest heroines of the Pashtun people: Malalai of Maiwand, a Pashtun girl often compared to the French saint, Joan of Arc, for her selfless acts of inspiration in war. In the 1880s, when the Pashtuns in Afghanistan were fighting against British colonialists, Malalai, though merely a teen, journeyed to the battlefield to aid the wounded. During the heated Battle of Maiwand, Malalai saw her besieged brethren losing morale, so she grabbed a flag and took off shouting out words of faith and encouragement, only to be struck down by bullets. Buoyed by her words, the Afghan soldiers prevailed.

Some have pointed out the fatefulness of Malala's name, given that she too was shot fighting for what she believed. But there is also something else that came from that name, something Ziauddin tried to instill in his daughter from an early age - an understanding that she was not barred from doing great things because she was a woman.

"In the course of the story you see the importance of her name," says Guggenheim. "We learn that Malala's family tree goes back hundreds of years but it's only men. Imagine that. None of the women were considered worthy enough to be recorded in the family tree. But Ziauddin had the simple instinct to say, 'No. My daughter deserves to be here, and she will be recorded in this family's history.' With that moment, he gives her permission to be who she wants and she took that to heart."

For Malala, her name is something she now sees as belonging to a movement as much as to one person. "I'm hopeful that this name will become a symbol of the fight for rights and for education," she says. "Something that really inspired me was that after I was attacked in Pakistan, was that girls raised banners that said 'I am Malala.' They were saying, 'I'm here to stand up for my rights.' So, it's not just the name of one girl. It's a name that now symbolizes girls speaking out."


"Usually, the Taliban kill people at night time. I would go outside, I would check every door. That gate is closed, they cannot come from that gate; that door is locked so they cannot come from that door. Oh god, protect my father, protect our family." -Malala

There may be no two more opposite forms of filmmaking than documentaries and animation. Documentarians grab a camera on the fly and shoot real life as it unfolds. Animators on the other hand work with a slow, painstaking way, line by line, bit by bit to paint an alternate view of reality.

Despite their differences, when these two forms unite it has produced moving audience experiences. Davis Guggenheim turned to animation in HE NAMED ME MALALA for a distinct storytelling purpose: to let audiences see Malala's memories, something that otherwise would have been impossible.

In part, Guggenheim was looking to bust stereotypes. "So often, when we a see a report here about Pakistan, it's something harsh or scary. But when Malala and Ziauddin tell the story of their past, it's something wonderful. The way they spoke, their memories felt like a storybook to me. So I chose to use animation to portray the part of the Yousafzai's lives before the Taliban in the way they themselves remember it: as something beautiful and charming, like a fairy tale. Animation means time and money. But I had the instinct that it could help tell Malala's story in a very profound and touching way."

Walter Parkes was surprised when Guggenheim first approached the producers with the idea - then Parkes was won over. "I remember Davis saying that we've been so inundated with news footage of the Taliban and of the chaos in Pakistan that it's too easy to shut that all off. And then he said, so I think that we should portray most of her past through animation. And I said, 'Are you crazy? This is a documentary,'" laughs Parkes. "But Davis truly had a vision, which is why he's such an intriguing filmmaker. The animation Davis and his team put together has created something that's quite unusual in a documentary: a subjective feeling that takes us into the past in a more personal way."

Guggenheim knew he would need a skilled, imaginative collaborator. He partnered with Jason Carpenter, a young filmmaker who had impressed him with his award-winning student short THE RENTER, which, despite using modern digital techniques, had a rough-hewn, organic look that rendered its story of a boy's experience at a daycare center as atmospheric and emotional as a painting.

Carpenter, who runs Carpenter Bros. Animation with his brother, says he saw the animation for HE NAMED ME MALALA as a "grand experiment." It was unlike any challenge he'd faced before - a challenge that would consume 18 months of focused creative work. "This is a very special kind of animation project because it deals not only with a real person but with a real world leader. So going in, we felt that the animation had to be very genuine, that it had to be respectful and reflective not only of the people involved but of the culture," the animator explains.

Most of all, Carpenter wanted the animation to be a kind of looking-glass mirror to the expressiveness of Malala and Ziauddin that Guggenheim captured. "The animation needed to feel authentic, but it also needed to be poetic and impressionistic, so that it could really contrast with the live action and you feel like you're stepping back into their most precious memories," Carpenter continues.

Rather than look to traditional animation, Carpenter looked to paintings, including Andrew Wyeth's moody, textural explorations of memory, nostalgia and longing for what was lost, as inspiration. He started with research, but once he had the basics, began freely experimenting. "We looked at the home Malala was born in and at the schools in Swat Valley because we wanted to be genuine. But we didn't want to be too fixed or too careful because then it can feel wooden," Carpenter says.

He goes on: "It was a matter of capturing the heart and spirit of Malala and her family, of feeding off the passion they have and bringing that kind of emotional life to the animation. It was also important to me that it feel very much like a young girl's vision of the world - not a man's vision - that it have a kind of softness and sweetness to it, and that it felt legitimately like Malala's perspective."

Carpenter used digital equipment but aimed for the beautiful imperfections of hand drawings. "We used Wacom tablets, iMacs, Mac Pros and Adobe software - but we were drawing with our hands," he explains. "You don't get splashes of paint on your pants, but it has that same level of craft."

From the start, Guggenheim loved the imagery Carpenter starting coming up with to match the words of Malala and Ziauddin. "The style of it was simple, very nostalgic, very lush and colorful - but most of all it seemed to come directly out of the way they told their own story," says the director.

The two worked in tandem - as Guggenheim would show Carpenter footage, Carpenter would refine the animation further. "If we had made all the animation after the film was shot and just dropped it in, it would be completely different," he points out. "But because the animation was responding to the footage as it came in, they really tie together. They became one, which is very unusual."

Carpenter's favorite sequences are the stories of how Ziauddin and Malala each found their voices - in which he animates their speeches as distinctive swirls that drift and carry like the wind.

"We first see Ziauddin being bullied for his stammering, and we needed to find a way to show how his words were failing yet he becomes a great speaker later," Carpenter recalls. "Getting that right was important because this story is so much about stepping up and speaking. If you notice, many times before a character speaks, they literally take a step up. When Malala gives a speech on the mountain, she takes a final step up the mountain before she speaks. When Ziauddin speaks to an audience, he takes a step up. That's how we show that part of speaking out is just having the courage to take that step."

Carpenter continues: "We also had to find a way to show that a voice is something that can inspire and touch people -- that it can change the world. So we tried to visually represent speech in a way that captures the energy, the beauty and the eloquence. If you look closely, you'll see that we handle Ziauddin and Malala's speech differently. Since Ziauddin is quite fiery there are actually little flames and things that jump around. But Malala's speech is more straightforward and it carries a great distance."

Another thrilling sequence for Carpenter was recreating the Battle of Maiwand, in which Malala's 19th Century counterpart becomes a heroine. "I really like the way colors shift in that sequence, and then when Malalai speaks, light reigns down from her voice," he describes.

For Carpenter, none of it would have been possible without Guggenheim's support. "Davis pushes you to do your best work. But he's also humble and easy to talk to. The whole thing felt so collaborative. And I don't think it could have happened like this any other way."


"For a time, our isolation meant we lived in a paradise. Life was normal, life was happy." - Malala

The home Malala and her family were forced to leave behind might currently be war-torn but it is also one of the most stunning locales in the world. The picturesque beauty and rich cultural background of the Swat Valley was something Davis Guggenheim hoped to evoke throughout the film.

"When you think of Pakistan, you tend to think of grainy footage and bad news - but when I looked at pictures of the Swat Valley, I saw a paradise which was green and lush and actually had a long tradition of education before the coming of the Taliban. So I really wanted to show a bit of this world that is not really very well known," says Guggenheim.

Nestled amid the soaring Hindu Kush Mountains, the Swat Valley is a verdant patchwork of fertile meadows fed by towering, snow-capped peaks and tumbling rivers. Yet this gorgeous region has tumbled through a complex and turbulent history. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 320 BC, became the birthplace of Vajrayana Buddhism in the 2nd Century BC, then became home to the Pashtun tribes who remain there today. The Swat Valley was later invaded by the Afghan ruler Mahmud of Gazni who introduced Islam into the region before it became a part of India under British rule. In 1917 the Yousafzai state of Swat was founded by Mian Gul Abdul Wadood. He and his son Miangul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb ruled over Swat state till in 1969 when it was incorporated into the new country of Pakistan.

The Swat Valley underwent another shift in the 1990s with the rise of radical militancy. In 1992, Sufi Muhammad founded the TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi), a Taliban-linked organization promoting strict Sharia law. In 2002, his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah -dubbed the "Radio Mullah" for his fervent radio speeches - took over the leadership of the TNSM. By 2007, amid deadly skirmishes with the Pakistani military, the group took control of much of the Swat Valley.

Growing increasingly severe in his pronouncements, it was in 2009 that Fazlullah announced a complete ban on female education in Swat, cutting off 40,000 girls from school. An ongoing campaign of destruction began - resulting in the bombing, torching and dismantlement of up to 400 schools.

All of this coincided with Malala's youth. But she had a different perspective. Her father was well aware that the region had a long tradition of favoring education. And as she confesses, from a very young age, she knew she was a student at heart, willing to do anything to learn.

In the hopes of training a new generation of women leaders, Ziauddin Yousafzai started the Khushal School, named after a famed Pashtun poet, Khushal khan khattak, in Mingora in 1994 with just 3 students, with Ziauddin serving as headmaster, teacher and even janitor. The school quickly grew and Malala started attending at the age of five. Though the Yousafzais are no longer there, Khushal School continues to educate girls in Swat Valley. Leaving the school behind is one of Ziauddin's greatest heartbreaks. He says: "I want to be with the children in Pakistan, to go to the school I started and to other schools to spread this message for education, and to walk in the lush green hills of Swat Valley again."

Since the military operation in 2009, there have been improvements in the Swat Valley. Children have returned to school and there has been a decrease in violence. But the situation remains tenuous and the same Taliban leaders who called for Malala's death were implicated in the 2014 Peshawar school massacre, which killed 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren between 8 and 18 years old.

In the Yousafzai home, there is still a dream of returning. "For us it is very difficult that the life we had in Swat, going to school in the morning with Malala, meeting children with their smiling, beautiful faces, meeting the elders of the area - that part of our family life is gone for now," says Ziauddin.

Next Production Note Section


Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.

© 2019 23®,  All Rights Reserved.


Find:  HELP!