Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

For many of us Africa is of minor importance and often forgotten when it comes to discussing world issues.  Or maybe just backward.   Certainly we are not conscious of African films.  However it is not dormant and seems poised for a more prominent role in politics and culture.

We are introduced to the Kamkwamba family with father, wife, son and daughter.  They live in a small village in Malawi and are already in a precarious plight due to their dependence on the weather and crops and world prices.  Soon things get worse as a corrupt government takes away their crops and the weather is dry.  The young son is able to fix radios and work with batteries.  His father encourages him to go to school, but is unable to pay the fees.   He manages to get the teacher and a librarian to give him access to books where he learns more about wind power and electricity.  At first his father sees his experiments (often with material from local dump) as toys and is angry.  Some friends and his mother rally around him and he is given a chance to build a windmill to pump water into the fields so they can grow more crops even in difficult weather.  We are told in the credits that William goes on to get a higher education and writes a book that is the base of this film.

It is not too often we get a chance to see an African village setting, unless it is for a big game hunter or race riots.  They speak mostly English, but also a native language, Chichewa which had to be learned by some of the cast. We can recognize people who react to situations very similar to us.

Malawi was pictured to be ruled by a corrupt government, but with good people at different levels.  I understand it is considered a functioning democracy today.  Like many African countries food is precarious with floods and droughts (and now locusts).

Chiwetel Ejiofor director writer, actor  read book by William Kamkwamba and bought the rights and started writing to adapt for a film.  It seemed worthy to be his first directorial effort.  "Kinky Boots" (2005) was my first awareness of Chiwetel where he played a very flamboyant transvestite and I assumed would have similar roles.   Earlier I had seen him in"Amistad" (1997) which was as a personal awakening as part of slavery history most of us were not aware of.    Other movies he appeared in included "Dirty Pretty Things" (2002),  "Endgame" (2009) and "12 Years a Slave" (2013) in which he received an Oscar nomination.  As Trywell Kamkwamba, he played a father who wanted his son to be educated, but when the perceived practicalities of their situation regarding access to water and government support were overwhelming  he acted angrily against his son.  His wife and a few others persuaded him to listen to and respect his son. 

Maxwell Simba played William Kamkwamba who at 13 years of age innovated and persisted against adults to engineer from available resources a windmill that could power a water pump enabling the village to plant.   Kenya had met with William Kamkwamba to get a feel for the role.  He tried to be respectful of his father, but also needed to assert himself.

Lily Banda played a sister of William and was romanced by a teacher who William was able to shame into helping him.  She was the only major actor from Malawi although many were in minor roles aor as crew members.  She co-wrote one song and sang with Antonio Pinto during the end credits.  This was her first movie and she made the most of it going onto to a regular role in a British television series,  "Deep State."

Aissa Maiga, born in Senegal, but raised in France.  She started appearing in films in 1997, mostly in
French including "Cache" (2005) and "Russian Dolls" (2205).  She won best actress award in Italian movie, "Bianco e Nero" (2008). 

Antonio Pinto, born in Brazil has composed music for many movies in Brazil, United States and Britain.  His films include, "Central Station" (1998), "City of God" (2002),  "Collateral" (2015), "Love in the Time of Cholera" (2007), "Trash" (2014), "McFarland USA" (2015) and  "Self/less (2015),

Richard Pope was the cinematographer with most of the film shot in Malawi.  Other films include "Topsy Turvey" (1999),  "The Illusionist" (2006),  "Another Year" (2010), "Mr Turner "(2014) and "Motherless Brooklyn" (2019).

Valerio Bonelli,  was the editor.  Some of his other films include  "Philomena" (2013),  "Florence Foster Jenkins" (2016) and "Darkest Hour" (2017),   He is the editor for the upcoming "The Woman in the Window" which has been completed, but no date set for release.

With established actors like Chiwetel Eijofor taking an interest in Africa we can expect to see more movies with a wider range of African subjects and the development of African film makers.  Earlier in the year I watched "Atlantics" (2019), a French-Senegalese production with French director and writer, but more Senegalese in the cast.   This movie came from a list given by Barrack Obama.

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