Two documentaries highlight the film landscape this weekend

National Lampoon became a comic institution in the 1970s, and included the talent of John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and others. — Photo courtesy M.V. Film Center

Currently playing at Island cinemas are two documentaries very different in approach and subject. “He Named Me Malala” portrays the remarkable Pakistani teenager who has campaigned for girls’ education from an early age. “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon” tracks the history of the celebrated satirical magazine. Both use distinctive cinematic techniques to convey their message.

Malala Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley at a time when the Taliban were emerging as a powerful force, opposing education for girls as well as threatening anyone who spoke out against their violent tactics. Her father Ziauddin named his daughter after a heroic Afghani teenager who led the fight against British invaders in the 19th century. As the film’s title suggests, Malala’s father has both inspired and guided his daughter’s advocacy.

Davis Guggenheim, Vineyard seasonal resident, who also directed the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” on Al Gore and global warming, incorporates animated sequences to fill out Malala’s story. They substitute for archival footage, one of documentary filmmaking’s most basic tools, and suggest an appeal to children. The film delves into the family’s history with both live-action sequences and animation. It shows Ziauddin, a schoolteacher who overcame stuttering, giving rousing speeches in support of nonviolence. In contrast with her daughter, Malala’s mother has remained uneducated after an early introduction as the only female in a neighborhood classroom, and she stays in the film’s background. The two Yousafzai sons provide lively evidence of Malala’s warm and supportive family life.

Guggenheim’s film illustrates the violence instigated by Taliban leaders, who blew up Pakistani schools for girls and regularly murdered their opponents. The 15-year-old Malala was riding home from school in a bus when a Taliban gunman shot her in the head, also injuring two of her friends. She was not expected to survive, let alone recover, but after evacuation to Birmingham, England, where surgery was performed and she underwent extensive physical therapy, Malala resumed her work as an activist. She has traveled worldwide to promote girls’ education, including a visit to the parents of girls abducted in Nigeria by Islamist rebels. In 2014, she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Indian activist for children’s rights Kailash Satyarthi, becoming the youngest person ever to receive the award.

Malala continues to speak out in support of education for girls, and on her 18th birthday she was present for the opening of a girl’s school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The strongest aspect of “He Named Me Malala” is its illustration of Malala’s charismatic presence as a public speaker. The film does not explore the extent to which her father has been responsible for her powerful speeches, but whether the words are written by her or not, she enlivens them with passion and conviction. The Sunday, Nov. 1, screening of the film at 4 pm will be free to viewers 18 and under, and MV Youth Leadership Initiative will lead a post-film discussion.

A history of the National Lampoon

Vineyard Haven resident Judy Jacklin Belushi helped open “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon” at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center last weekend. Both she and her husband John Belushi worked for the magazine and its adjuncts, and the film returns to the Film Center this weekend. Most notable about Douglas Tirola’s film is the way it uses flash editing and multiple still shots to tell its story. Rather than burying the magazine in its history, the techniques give the film a very current feel. Add to that the use of footage rarely or never before seen.

A spinoff of the Harvard Lampoon, the National Lampoon reigned during the nation’s heyday of magazines in the 1970s, with a peak circulation of 1 million. The magazine successfully expanded its brand into other media, including radio, TV, film, and the Internet, before its 2010 demise. The avowed goal was to shatter every conceivable cultural taboo, and the magazine succeeded in overturning the conventions for acceptable comedy, setting today’s ground rules. It also served as a breeding ground for some of the nation’s best-known comedians. In addition to John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner appeared in Lampoon-sponsored shows like “The National Lampoon Radio Hour” and the immensely popular movie “Animal House.”

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