2016-02-18 / Front Page

'A Bomb Comes in a Minute, a Book Lasts Forever'

By Betsy Sherman Walker


Students file into the Jane Pickens Theater for a newportFILM Youth screening of “He Named Me Malala,” the 2015 documentary about the 15-year-old Pakistani girl (inset) whose crusade on behalf of educating girls in her native Swat Valley made her the target of an assassination attempt by the Taliban. She survived, and became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Students file into the Jane Pickens Theater for a newportFILM Youth screening of “He Named Me Malala,” the 2015 documentary about the 15-year-old Pakistani girl (inset) whose crusade on behalf of educating girls in her native Swat Valley made her the target of an assassination attempt by the Taliban. She survived, and became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. On the day in 2012 that Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by members of the Taliban opposed to her crusade to educate girls in her native country, the event ultimately morphed into the shot heard around the world.

Two local examples: the education mission embraced by newportFILM Youth and the “passion” of a senior at Portsmouth Abbey, which merged last week when newportFILM hosted a screening and discussion of the award-winning film “He Named Me Malala,” at the Jane Pickens Theater on Friday, Feb. 12.

The story of the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was the target of an assassination attempt - and who would eventually receive the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts - changed countless lives.

One of those deeply affected was Zoe Butler, a senior at Portsmouth Abbey. “I learned about Malala on the day she was shot,” Butler told more than 400 middle school students (sixth-graders from Thompson, seventh-graders from Gaudet, as well as students from Cluny School, and MET School). “I have been thinking about her ever since,” Butler said. “A lot of people at my school think about her every day.” At Portsmouth Abbey, she said students even created a human rights club, for which she created a video about Malala.

For Butler, Malala and her mission transformed her life. “This was not a senior project,” she explained, when asked about how she became so involved. “I am just incredibly passionate about educating America’s youth, which fits right into Malala’s theme of girls’ right to education.”


More than 400 middle school students (from Thompson, Gaudet, Cluny, and MET schools) filled the seats of the Jane Pickens Theater on Feb. 12 to watch, and then discuss, “He Named Me Malala.” 
(Photo by Jonathan Clancy) More than 400 middle school students (from Thompson, Gaudet, Cluny, and MET schools) filled the seats of the Jane Pickens Theater on Feb. 12 to watch, and then discuss, “He Named Me Malala.” (Photo by Jonathan Clancy) Joining Butler on the stage was Katrin Jomaa, assistant professor in political science and philosophy at URI. Even though the two had not met until introduced

Friday morning at the Pickens Theater, Malala’s passion had touched Jamaa with equal fervor. “With this movie I felt that I connected with Malala on many levels,” Jomaa, a Muslim and native of Lebanon, told the students. “If you don’t have an education,” she said, “you don’t know [anything], and if you don’t know [anything], you can’t understand our world.”

For newportFILM’S Executive Director Terri Conners, the event must have seemed like an aligning of the planets. "newportFILM Youth [presents] a year-round schedule of documentaries we have curated specifically for students,” Conners said. Working with a library of films on an array of subjects enables them to follow the rubric of newportFILM's program. “It is fluid and everchanging,” she added, “depending on the needs of the students, and/or the mission of the documentary itself.”

By its very design, a documentary is a fact-based piece of storytelling. It can be short or long, historical, biographical, sensational, investigative, or conclusive. At the top of the list for newportFILM is that it must educate. “We believe in the power of the documentary film,” says its website, “to inspire, motivate, entertain and create change.”

But more than that, to truly inspire, it needs to resonate.

Butler was impressed with the level of sophistication displayed by the sixth- and seventh-grade students who watched the film. “For the most part,” she said, “they wanted to know the intricacies of the Taliban.” In the Q & A that followed, one student asked, “If the Taliban thought of themselves as so powerful, why did they view a 15-year-old girl as a threat?”

“With this movie, you can see that Malala is much stronger than the Taliban,” Jomaa said. “Education is much stronger than bombs. A bomb comes in a minute, a book lasts forever.”

Another student wanted to know why the Taliban uses fear to show they are powerful. “Fear,” said Butler, “is the best way to get people to listen to you if you’re not telling the truth.”

The irony in it all is that once they became a part of Malala’s agenda, the Taliban seemed to become the unwitting agents of change they could no longer control.

“I believe the most valuable aspect of the event,” Butler said,” was the dialogue with the kids about what it means to lead with love rather than fear, and what it means to be courageous in the setting of academia.”

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