Who wouldn’t want to make a documentary about Malala Yousafazi?
The Pakistan-born Nobel laureate, 18, is one of the most inspirational figures alive, a young woman who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban at the age of 15 to become a premier activist for female education, with what seems to be a superhuman capacity for forgiveness.
Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) still had to pause before signing on to make “He Named Me Malala,” which opens in theaters Friday.
He needed an angle to Malala’s story that hadn’t been covered to justify doing the film.
amNewYork spoke with Guggenheim about what precisely that was and more.
Why didn’t you say yes right away to this?
I wanted to read more, because I’d known she was a girl who was shot on her school bus, but I wanted to know if there was more dimension than that. What could I add to the narrative?
What did that evaluation process entail?
It was more searching to see if there were some themes and enough of a rich story to tell the story in a full movie. I realized that there was something really interesting about this father-daughter relationship [between Malala and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai].
What sort of preproduction work did you do with Malala and her father?
I start by doing these audio-only interviews. I showed up at their house [in England]; just me, no camera crew. Sitting in Malala’s office, which has a little red desk, coats on a wall and enough room for two chairs and that’s it. With no notes. We just talked. And very quickly she realized that I wanted to go deep. I wanted to really hear about everything. And at the end of that, after a few hours, she goes, “I’m telling you things that I’ve never told anybody.”
What attracted you to the father-daughter story?
It is very fundamental that that relationship was so meaningful to me to make the movie. I have two daughters and I wanted to know what he did to make this girl feel so confident and creative. What is it? Sometimes as a father, I feel concealed, poorly equipped, I feel like I fail more than I succeed. … I found myself learning from this Muslim Pakistani man who raised his daughter 7,000 miles from where I’m raising my daughter.
Why is it important to show Malala’s everyday side as well? What does that add to her story?
Because for my daughter, the person who I thought about when I made this movie, if she thought Malala was born super human, she will never believe that she herself can do something extraordinary.