Malala Yousafzai is familiar to us all as the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban on a schoolbus in 2012 for defying a ban on girl's education. Today she is in exile with her immediate family, living in England as a schoolgirl, but also a globetrotting Nobel Prize winning campaigner for a woman's right to education.
This is the story retold in David Guggenheim's documentary. It begins with some candid footage of the Yousafzai family trying to create a new life in England. Malala and her two brothers are wonderfully frank and full of energy and on the surface it all seems remarkably buoyant. But we get a few glimpses of the reality of life in exile in a vastly different culture. Malala misses her home and friends and finds it odd to be schoolfriends with girls who are dating and wear school skirts. Her mother, who speaks very little English, is lonely and has to almost rebegin an education she never had. Malala also struggles to combine the normal stresses of schoolwork with the campaigning work that she is evidently utterly committed to - not to mention exceptionally good at.
The story of her present day life is interwoven with the real meat of the film. Through archive footage, old photos and beautiful pastel coloured animation from Jason Carpenter and Irene Kotlarz we see village life in the Swat valley recreated. We see that Malala's father and grandfather were campaigners and that she was raised in her father's school. When the Taliban come to town, at first they are received warmly. But then comes the burning of televisions and CDs and the ban on women's education. Her father campaigns and she defies the ban and in so doing becomes a target for retribution. When she's shot (and two of her schoolfriends caught in the fire) her father even asks himself is she'll resent him for putting her in the path of fire. It's something David Guggenheim asks her about at the end of the film. Malala takes ownership of her choice to defy the ban, and of course one senses her profound personal courage. Nonetheless, as the title of this documentary and the focus of its attention show, her father is an equally inspiring figure and undoubtedly deeply influential on his daughter.
The resulting film is interesting and well put together and benefits greatly from the exuberance of the Yousafzai family. But I do rather regret David Guggenheim not probing deeper into the story of difficult exile. It's starts to be really insightful as certain conversations are picked up, but they're never pursued satisfactorily.
HE NAMED ME MALALA has a running time of 86 minutes and is rated PG-13. The movie played Telluride, Toronto and London 2015. It was released earlier this month in the USA and Canada. It will go on release later this month in Germany, Chile and Denmark. It will be released in November in Italy, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Ireland, Chile, Brazil, Sweden and Finland. It goes on release in December in Argentina, Japan and Norway and on January 27th in France.