Based on a true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a riveting and inspiring tale. The film focuses on 13-year-old William Kamkwamba whose ingenuity helped to save his community in the time of their greatest need. Set in Malawi in 2001, Ejiofor’s film taps into a turbulent period when corporate greed and a government’s desire to maintain power nearly destroyed a land.
The son of a farmer, Trywell (Chiwtel Ejiofor), young William (Maxwell Simba) displayed a thirst for knowledge at an early age. He often spent his free time fixing radios, scavenging local junk yards for spare parts and studying in hopes of one day being admitted to university like his older sister Annie (Lily Banda). While Trywell and his wife Agnes (Aïssa Maïga) wanted a more modern life for their children, their economic situation, which was growing dire with each passing day, made it hard to pay for Annie and William’s education.
They were not the only ones feeling the pinch. Thanks to corporations monopolizing the tobacco industry and clearing the land of its trees, farmers were finding it harder to grow crops and maintain an income. When not dealing with the harsh dry season, the brief rain they received resulted in flooding. As famine started to set in across the land, and violence and crime erupted, the fight for survival hit a fever pitch.
Inspired by a book he read on wind energy, William believed that building a windmill would create sustainable water source that would allow the villagers to grow crops all year round. The challenge for William was not only building the device, but also convincing his father and others in the community that the experiment was a risk worth taking.
Displaying a confident and keen eye behind the camera, Ejiofor does a wonderful job of immersing viewers into the cultural and political climate of Malawi at the time. In subtly highlighting the gradual change of the landscape from vibrant to desolate, the film carries a sense of building dread that is not easy to shake. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind serves as a cautionary tale of what could occur globally if governments and corporations continually neglect the environmental impact of their actions.
While the environmental commentary carries a sense of urgency, at its core, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a moving tale of resilience. Maxwell Simba is a revelation as William as he conveys youthful innocence and the stress of uncertainty with equal weight. Through Simba’s brilliant performance, Ejiofor effectively shows that, despite one’s age, all it takes is an idea and determination to create positive changes in the lives of many.