Synopsis (Netflix): Inspired by a science book, 13-year-old William Kamkwamba builds a wind turbine to save his Malawian village from famine. Based on a true story.
Starring: Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aïssa Maïga, Lily Banda, Joseph Marcell, Philbert Falakeza
Directed by: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Writing credits (according to IMDB): Chiwetel Ejiofor (adaptation), William Kamkwamba (based on the book by), Bryan Mealer (based on the book by)
My review: I was planning on watching The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by myself for review purposes a few weeks ago. But as fate would have it, my dad started watching it one night. At the time I was trying to catch something else, but then, as kept standing in the kitchen watching the film and eyeing the clock, I realized that I was way more invested in the film than I was in whatever I was trying to watch. So I sat down and viewed it with my dad, giving into my captivation.
I’m writing this story to illustrate one fact about good filmmaking; if a story is told right, it will catch you no matter where you are. It will demand you stop in your tracks.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut, and I believe he gave us a very strong opening. Sometimes, new directors can come out of the gate shaky (see my Mowgli review). But Ejiofor came to this film with a strong sense of storytelling. He had a clear message he wanted to send to his audience, especially for these particularly precarious times regarding climate change. His message, that anything can be solved with ingenuity and intelligence, is one we should all take to heart.
“[H]ere’s William Kamkwamba at 13 deciding that he’s going to live in the solution to his problems, to identify problems accurately and live in the solution,” he said to SlashFilm. “It’s such an empowering choice for a young boy in Malawi, but it’s also an empowering choice for everybody and everywhere, to look at the problems we face–some of the same problems in terms of the environment–and actually making positive, solution-based choices. We should all be living more like William.”
I love this, quite frankly. I feel like we’ve all been living in an overwhelming time in which everyone is stressed about everything. Because we are all overtaxed by everything, including the climate, we are all in a hopeless state of mind. But while wallowing in hopelessness feels good–like eating junk food for depression–it isn’t going to solve anything. What does solve problems is, as Ejiofor said, living in the solution. Hopefully this film inspires those who view it to think of their own ways to solve problems within their communities. If we all do something, big or small, the world would be a much nicer place.
In short, the film is very inspirational, but what I like the most is that the film inspires without being heavy-handed. It genuinely entertains as much as it is uplifting. One aspect I loved the most about the film is the use of the Gule Wamkulu, a secret group of dancers who, as Ejiofor told NPR, “are the kind of spiritual center of Malawian cultural life” that perform weddings, funerals, inaugurations, etc. After tons of hard work, Ejiofor was finally able to track down and secure the Gule for his film, and I feel like the Gule add that particular cultural touch that took this film to the next level.
For instance, we first we the Gule at a funeral for a man who drops dead after working in his field. We quickly learn that the Gule are synonymous with the spiritual realm. Therefore, when we see the Gule next–at the local forest being cut down for a logging company–it teaches the audience that nature isn’t just that stuff outside our doors. Nature is intrinsic to our lives in more ways than we realize. That forest that the logging company cut down actually acted as a natural dam for the village. It kept the heavy rains from washing crops away. Once the rains start, the crops fall in jeopardy, pushing the village behind when it comes to the dry season. And when the dry season hits, it hits hard. We start seeing the mysterious Gule more and more the more dire things get.
Even though the Gule haunt William Kamkwamba (Simba), their presence also seems to drive him to find change. Even though he faces hardship after hardship, from his school kicking him out because his family can no longer pay for his schooling, to his father Trywell (Ejiofor) stubbornly disbelieving his idea for making a wind turbine, William proves his doubters wrong and ends up saving the village all with his mind.
Simba plays William as an internally deep, soulful boy who has a well of genius inside him. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is Simba’s first film, and his performance bodes well for how far he can go in Hollywood. Along with flexing behind the camera, Ejiofor also showcases his stellar acting skills, portraying Trywell’s growing frustration with himself and his inability to provide for his family.
Aïssa Maïga portrays Trywell’s wife Agnes, a formidable woman who passed on her massive intellect to William and his sister Annie (Lily Banda). Maïga plays Agnes with strength, and I don’t write that to say she’s played like the stereotypical “strong woman” character. Agnes, instead, is given subtle layers–we can see that she gave up a promising life for love, and as much as she loves her husband and family, she also wants her children to live much better than she has. She wants them to allow their education to take then further than she was permitted to go. This yearning sometimes puts her at odds with Trywell, who wants his children to live in the traditional ways he grew up with.
Overall, I loved this film, and the bonus on top was seeing Joseph Marcell outside of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It’s a shame we in America didn’t get to see him in more outside of that sitcom, since he’s a great dramatic actor. But in any event, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a fantastic film that will inspire the whole family. I’m ready to see Simba and the rest of the film’s cast take over Hollywood and shine their light in every role they take.