THE STORY – Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for his studies. Yet after land development and poor weather lead to a meager harvest, famine strikes the village, alarming the community and forcing William to drop out of school when his father (Chiwetel Ejiofor) can no longer afford the fees. Determined to find a way out of the life-threatening situation his family is facing, William sneaks into the school library to research—and soon conspires to build a windmill pump to irrigate the land. Caught between his father’s close-minded skepticism and the difficulty of creating a machine out of bicycle parts and scrap materials, William races against the clock to fight for his community’s survival.
THE CAST – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda, Noma Dumezweni, Aïssa Maïga & Joseph Marcell
THE TEAM – Chiwetel Ejiofor (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 113 Minutes
By DeAnn Knighton
Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) makes his feature directorial debut with this screen adaptation, based on the novel of the same name. William Kamkwamba co-authored the story of his own life as a 14-year-old boy in Malawi, who pushes through his humble circumstances to invent a solution for his family and village.
Filming on location, Ejiofor takes notable chances with highlighting the beauty of the environment, contrasted to the harsh circumstances surrounding the central family and the village. The movie opens with a funeral procession that is as colorful as it is haunting and made me hopeful that the film itself would carry that tone throughout. As we are viewing the landscape and the long shots of the film, there is a mystery that is powerful and impressive. Clearly, there was great thought paid to capturing the beauty of the surrounding country represented and those moments work well.
Since the basis of the film is farming as a means for survival, no matter the elements, a stylistic choice is made to divide the film to mirror the stages of the farming cycle. Starting with the “sow” and ending with the “hunger,” as the family waits for a miracle for the next cycle to begin. This is a successful device to the storytelling and a good choice made by Ejiofor. Another positive is the lead performance given by Ejiofor himself. His anguished face does the most to tell the impact of this story. As the presiding presence of the father over our central character, the 14-year-old William, he reminds us of his strength as an actor. Newcomer, Maxwell Simba, also gives a notable performance in the titular role, particularly as we near the end of the film.
Unfortunately, as we spend time with the family itself, watching them suffer endless loss, pain, brutality, and hunger, the tone attempts to offset the realities of this world by following a very straightforward narrative. Not to say it is not a good thing to be inspired by a movie, but I was hopeful this film could transcend some of the cliches that exist in this genre. There are some tweaks that could still be made with the editing though. As an example, there is a scene with a closeup on William’s sisters face as she ponders a fairly major decision, it felt like the time we stayed on her face and held the scene was just to time the music cue right and nothing more.
“The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” is indeed a powerful and inspirational story, based on a young adult novel, but unfortunately, some of the young adult elements translate to the screenplay as well. The dialogue did not do much to help support the actors working to find their footing in the film. The message itself does convey the power of tenacity and innovation and has already been awarded a feature film prize from the Sundance Film Festival for Science and Technology. There is definitely an audience that will respond well to this film and the message of hope, which is something that is always welcomed. No doubt it will be regarded as one of the most family-friendly watches of the year but I was left wanting just a bit more.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Because it is shot on location in East Africa, the film provides some stunning imagery. Ejiofor as a director makes some interesting choices, some of which pay off and continues to show us his ability to command the screen as an actor.
THE BAD – The narrative of the film is far too rooted in traditional “true story inspirational” framing, which unfortunately leaves the film fairly predictable. There are attempts at a more auteur tone, but it quickly reverts to conventional choices.
THE OSCARS – None