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Telluride: Malala addresses screening crowd: ‘I have forgiven’

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai is the subject of the documentary "He Named Me Malala," which opened the Telluride Film Festival

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai is the subject of the documentary “He Named Me Malala,” which opened the Telluride Film Festival

(Fox Searchlight)

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addressed an audience at the Telluride Film Festival by satellite from England on Friday after the first public screening of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about her, “He Named Me Malala,” opened the prestigious, four-day event.

Guggenheim’s portrait of the extraordinary young activist intercuts often sweet and humorous footage of Malala’s life with her family in England — where she has lived since the Taliban shot her for speaking out on female education — with dreamlike animation of their experiences in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

“To be patient and kind, this was the philosophy I adopted after the attack,” Malala said in a Q&A after the screening, when moderator-filmmaker Ken Burns asked what had happened to her attackers. “I have forgiven them.”

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Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, whose bond with her is a central focus of the film, attended the Telluride screening and likened the small Colorado mountain town to his own.

“I was looking at beautiful mountains and lush green forests and thinking, ‘You are so lucky,’” Ziauddin said. “We have the same forests and trees... Once Swat was like a heaven. It became a hell for its inhabitants.”

Guggenheim’s film shows the ordinary moments in Malala’s life -- she’s disappointed with a physics grade, Googling handsome cricket players, teasing her brothers -- but his cameras also follow the young advocate as she visits schoolgirls in Nigeria and refugees on the Syrian border, and fights through surgeries and physical therapy resulting from her gunshot injuries.

“He Named Me Malala,” which Fox Searchlight will release Oct. 2, relies on dreamlike animation designed by Jason Carpenter for key scenes, including the day in 2012 when a gunman boarded Malala’s schoolbus, asked for her by name and shot her in the forehead.

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“I made a choice not to tell the global political story,” Guggenheim said during the Q&A. “As a father of two daughters, I wanted to tell the story of... why did this amazing girl happen?”

Guggenheim said that when producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald first met the inspiring teenager they thought, “How could you find an actor to play her? It must be a documentary.”

During the Q&A, Malala also fielded questions from Burns on how she had done on her recent university entrance exams -- “I have received the Nobel Peace Prize and it was the happiest day of my life when I received my exams.” She said she’s considering Oxford and Stanford universities, and would like to study politics and economics.

The screening was attended by many high-profile film industry women, including Meryl Streep, Rooney Mara and Los Angeles Film Festival director Stephanie Allain.

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Despite technical difficulties that cut off Malala’s satellite, her father ably picked up the young activist’s message of education and independence for girls.

“Don’t ask me what I do, ask me what I did not do,” Ziauddin said, of how he raised Malala. “I did not clip her wings.”

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