HE NAMED ME MALALA
"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
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
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
ONLY MALALA COULD TELL MALALA'S STORY
"My father only gave me the name Malalai. He didn't make me Malalai. I chose
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 exposÃ©s 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
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
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
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."
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
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
"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,"
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."
AT HOME WITH THE YOUSAFZAIS
My mother would say, "It's written in the Holy Qur'an that truth has to come,
and falsehood has to die."
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
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,"
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
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
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."
THE HOME LEFT BEHIND: THE SWAT VALLEY
"For a time, our isolation meant we lived in a paradise. Life was normal,
life was happy."
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
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
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
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.
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