By Eugene Harnan
Her courage defied Taliban thugs and her message of hope has inspired millions. Now an Abu Dhabi production company will make a feature-length documentary about the Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai’s fight for the right to education – with five places on the crew for Emirati interns. Filming begins this month with a cinema release late next year.
“I believe this movie will speak to every girl and every family in the world,” said Davis Guggenheim, the film’s director.
Guggenheim is an Academy Award-winning director and producer whose previous work includes Waiting for Superman and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. His two daughters were inspired and captivated by Malala’s story, he said.
Walter Parkes and his partner Laurie MacDonald of Parkes + MacDonald Productions will make the documentary with Image Nation, a division of Abu Dhabi Media, which publishes The National.
“There are few stories Laurie and I have ever come across that are as compelling, urgent or important as the real-life struggle of Malala and her father Ziauddin on behalf of universal education for children,” said Parkes.
“It is an honour and a privilege to be able to try to bring the lives of these extraordinary people to the screen.”
Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of Image Nation, said they would make at least five positions on the project available to Emiratis as part of their training and internship programme.
“We are honoured to be involved in making a film about such an urgent and timely issue,” he said. “We hope to inspire generations of children worldwide with Malala’s message of courage and hope.”
Malala, who is now 16, was shot in the head and neck in 2012 after Taliban gunmen opened fire on her school bus in the Swat Valley.
She had been a vocal advocate for the right of young women to education, and started a blog on the BBC in 2009 about her life under Taliban rule and their push to take control of the Swat Valley as well as her views on girls’ education.
After The New York Times filmed a documentary about her, she became the chairperson of the District Child Assembly of Swat – and became known as an enemy of the Taliban.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” said Malala during her first public address last week. “But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
After the shooting Malala was flown to the UK for intensive rehabilitation and went on to launch an international campaign for the right of every child to safe education. She was nominated in February for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
In a speech in New York to nearly 1,000 young leaders from more than 100 countries at the first Youth Assembly of the United Nations on her birthday last week, which was declared International Malala Day, the young activist thanked the UAE government for its role in her recovery.
“Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them. So here I stand, one girl among many,” she told the assembly.
“I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.
“We realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”
A principal at a Pakistani school in the UAE today echoed the hope that the documentary would reach the homes of families where female education was a priority.
“It should be really promoted and propagated. Each person and child, male and female should be given the right attitude,” he said. “Now with the increase of the availability of technology, it is much easier to educate children through distance learning.”
Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said the film needed to be shown in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in other places where women’s education is suppressed.
“I’d look at what we are doing with men and boys and why they are so opposed to girls’ education and look at what is going on in those schools and see where those resistances and attitudes are coming from,” she said.