Chiwetel Ejiofor On Writing And Directing His First Feature Film

Chiwetel Ejiofor On Writing And Directing His First Feature Film

Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director Chiwetel Ejiofor poses for a portrait to promote the film “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” at the Salesforce Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

Nigerian-English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor has been busy since his critically acclaimed film “12 Years a Slave.” He is writing and directing his first feature film, about a Malawian boy’s innovation in the face of famine.

The film is called “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” and is a Netflix production, which is also screening in select theaters. Not only is Ejiofor behind the camera, he also stars as the lead character’s father, farmer Trywell Kamkwamba.

This will be Ejiofor’s feature-writing and directorial debut.

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“‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ follows Trywell’s family, and the community around them, as they grapple with the devastating effects of a famine that struck Malawi in the early Aughts. The price of grain grows more and more untenable amid political turmoil, driving the residents of Wimbe, Trywell’s agriculture-dependent town in central Malawi, into abject poverty. The titular boy, named William and played gracefully by the Kenyan newcomer Maxwell Simba, devises a method for restoring water to the barren landscape through a makeshift turbine,” The Atlantic reported.

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Ejiofor first heard of the  William Kamkwamba’s story 10 years ago, when a friend recommended the book to him. “It doesn’t shy away from any of the challenges or the struggles or the difficulties, and it doesn’t re-characterize any of that; it shows it very rawly, but it’s so beautifully optimistic and hopeful,” Ejiofor, 41, said of the book. “And William Kamkwamba is a person who, even at that age, [had] made a decision to live in the solution to the problems.”

So why did Ejiofor decide to adapt “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”? Because of the message of the story’s protagonist. “Okay, well, we’ve got all these problems, so what do we do about them, and how do we really actively live in the context of that?” asks Ejiofor.

He added: “So I just thought that was a deeply inspirational story on all of those levels—in the sort of microlevel of that community and William Kamkwamba in that community, but also in this very expansive way.”

The film, which debuted March 1, is already garnering praises. “The Netflix film spends much of its runtime setting up the circumstances of the famine and depicting its dire effects on the Kamkwamba family and other residents of Wimbe. Ejiofor paints a clear picture of structural economic woes, but the film doesn’t veer into tacky, overdone visual depictions of African poverty. It avoids the trap of sensationalizing African suffering for Western consumption,” The Atlantic reported.

Ejiofor knows the responsibility of presenting a good film. “The way that we relate to those kind of rural African communities is very rarely within the epic storytelling tradition of cinema,” he continued. “So it was important to me to look at that and to think, Okay, how do I render this truthfully, but in an epic way?”