‘He Named Me Malala’ Sparks Tears At Telluride Film Festival

The Wrap says Malala Yousafzai is not your typical teenager. The Pakistani teen opened a school on her 18th birthday. Like some of the biggest pop stars of her generation and generations before, she is perhaps known universally by her first name. She survived, miraculously, being shot by the Taliban. Malala also won a Nobel Peace Prize for her tireless work as an advocate for female education. He Named Me Malala, the Davis Guggenheim documentary that chronicles Malala’s work and that of her father, fell into the “secret screening” category at the Telluride Film Festival and, like Malala herself, brought the assembled crowd to tears and applause.

Director Guggenheim, perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth and his treatise on the public education system Waiting for Superman, obviously feels quite passionately about the work that Malala has done in putting the spotlight on female education rights in Pakistan. His focus, though, is not on Malala the symbol — the international public is already incredibly familiar with Malala in that role as she is featured in a range of international venues — but on Malala the teen girl. She is a teen with annoying little brothers and who adores her father, who always encouraged her to seek out an education in her own right.

What is interesting about Malala’s enduring and tireless work is that she continues to be hungry for more education. She has a thirst for knowledge that students and teachers everywhere can learn from and be inspired by. Malala was brought up to believe that she had a right to that knowledge by her father, and it is that thirst for knowledge that is perhaps as inspiring as anything else about her.

What many may not be aware of is that Malala was named for the Afghani freedom fighter against British rule. That tale is told in an animated sequence at the start of the film, thanks in part to the work of skilled animator Jason Carpenter. While the film does not quite follow a timeline, which is a seeming deliberate choice by Guggenheim, Malala is seen delivering her powerful message about the important right to education that women have regardless of where they live in the world, accompanied as she is by her father Ziauddin Yousafzai.

However, there is a price to pay for being outspoken, the Hollywood Reporter says in their review, and Malala was no exception to this. When she was shot in the head by the Taliban for her “arrogance” in wanting an education, she went through months of recuperation in England. The family continues to reside in Birmingham, England, and Malala’s mother admits at one point in the documentary that she does miss her home in Afghanistan. Malala acknowledges the impact her choices have had on her family, but she wonders at the same time whether or not her father chose her life in naming her after a freedom fighter. It is only one of the many moments in He Named Me Malala that are not to be missed.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]