Not unlike William Kamkwamba, the resourceful Malawi student who, in 2001, built a windmill to bring water to his struggling family’s thirsty land, Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, in writing and directing William’s story — “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” — feeds our hunger for inspiring tales in these desperate times with a beautifully engineered narrative latticework of hardship, hope, and know-how.
Son to a proud crop-farming dad (Ejiofor) and progressive-minded mother (Aïssa Maïga), 13-year-old William (Maxwell Simba) is his village’s electronics fix-it whiz kid, eager to start high school and nurture his love of mechanics and math, until the family’s livelihood is threatened by bad weather, a forbidding drought, and the famine-negligent actions of a corrupt government.
Forced to quit school over unpaid tuition, William sneaks in anyway, with a plan to save his family inspired by a bike-powered light. The tale of a kid whose rebellion is in feeding his knowledge is rousing enough, but it’s to Ejiofor’s credit that he takes care to meaningfully dramatize how the systems around William — social, economic and political — create a perfect storm of obstacles for anyone in a struggling community trying to seed a future.
Burnished by Dick Pope’s wonderfully textured cinematography built with landscapes and faces lined with beauty and pain, and a wonderful cast dialed in to the story’s ready-made emotions (especially French-Senegalese actress Maïga’s powerful portrait of fierce motherhood), Ejiofor’s directorial debut is that rare docudrama: a real-life story that actually teems with fully lived, valiantly fought lives.
‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Landmark Regent, Westwood; also on Netflix