Effecting change is part of what drew the star to make the documentary. Madonna said that she had already been talking to husband Guy Ritchie about the possibility of adopting a child when she received a phone call from Victoria Keelan, who does humanitarian work in Malawi.
"When the student is ready a teacher appears," she said. "This light bulb went off."
In April of 2006 Madonna headed to the tiny South African country — one of the poorest countries in the world — intent on adopting a child and making a film. With her on that first trip was a young man who for years had helped take care of her kids and worked as her gardener who she had decided would direct her film — a choice that raised many eyebrows.
"Well, it's not good to think in a limited way," she said. "After all I used to be the jelly squirter at Dunkin Donuts."
The film they have made together is in many ways unexpected. It is not about Madonna and only indirectly about her attempt to adopt a little boy named David. It is a sweeping look at a country where children are raising other children and where more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Madonna steps off center stage and lets the children tell their own stories.
"I wanted to get out of the way and every once in a while come in and explain some details. I let the people tell their story."
"I still cry when I see it," she said. "You can just feel the humanity of people. The vulnerability of people … You really see the strength of women, that's the other thing about Africa. The women seem to carry the burden of everything. They seem to be the ones pushing forward to make change. They seem to be the ones who were the victims of so many things. They moved me more than anything."
But buried in the bleak images of despair, there are smiles … genuine smiles. It is not just the pain which is palpable in this film. There is also joy.
"I had never seen so much, sort of, tangible suffering, but I've never experienced so much joy and openness," she said. "I think that comes from living in the moment without having a lot of distractions, which we have a lot of. And not knowing if the next day is going to come so really experiencing things in the moment."
Which brings us another joyous and painful subject: David, her foster son from Malawi who she is intent on adopting, seen in the documentary as a tiny baby being carried by a young girl called Wezi.
She says she knew she had a connection to him, and that her husband Guy experienced that as well when they returned to Malawi. She says Guy also "experienced David's magic," but took a little longer to make the decision.
"You know men, they always take a little bit longer to catch up," she said.
Joking aside, their adoption was supposed to be finalized last month, then last week … then yesterday … but has been repeatedly postponed by the Malawi court despite the excellent evaluation of the Ritchie household by the court-appointed social worker.
Madonna marvels that even the evaluation was leaked to the press.
"I got a gold star for parenting? Is nothing private?"
David's biological father, who stepped forward when the adoption made international headlines, now supports the adoption. But still they wait.
"It's just bureaucracy, she said."I'm going to be patient. For him, I'll be patient."