Between writing, acting and helming, it’s not likely that The Lion King‘s future Scar will get any sleep on the set of this based-on-a-true-story movie.
He’s been gracing stages and screens since he was just 14, but now, Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is moving behind the camera to take on the tricky task of directing himself in his feature directorial debut. As The Hollywood Reporter has revealed, Ejiofor, who has already helmed two shorts, will be taking a key role in his self-penned adaptation of the New York Times bestselling biography, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”. Executive producers on this project include the subject of the film, William Kamkwamba, and Bryan Mealer, Kamkwamba’s co-author on the aforementioned bestseller. The as yet untitled British Film Institute-backed drama has just begun production in Malawi, the country in which the real story occurred.
As per THR, here’s the official synopsis for the film:
“The film follows 13-year-old Kamkwamba (newcomer Maxwell Simba) who is thrown out of the school he loves when his family can no longer afford the fees. Sneaking back into the school library, he finds a way, using the bones of the bicycle belonging to his father Trywell (Ejiofor), to build a windmill which then saves his village from famine. The emotional journey of a father and his exceptional son at its heart, William’s tale captures the incredible determination of a boy whose inquisitive mind overcame every obstacle in his path.”
Kamkwamba’s story is certainly inspiring. It’s a tale that commands appreciation of his astonishing ingenuity and blends its sense of awe with one of socio-political urgency: education, the environment, and international development are all crucial components to its telling.
Since “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” was first published in 2009, Kamkwamba has found himself the focus of two TED talks, as well as a short and feature documentary. William and the Windmill, the aforementioned non-fiction feature, won SXSW’s Grand Jury Award for its category. As a film, it takes quite an unexpected approach to telling Kamkwamba’s story, choosing to focus its energies on the young man’s experience with the Western fame cycle rather than the story of innovation that initially earned him all that international attention. (Incidentally, the doc actually captures the moment Kamkwamba signs his life story rights to Ejiofor.)
What we know about Ejiofor’s film tells us that it will cover the cinematic gap left by William and the Windmill. The original account will take center stage here, as casting announcements reveal that his sister, parents, teacher and the librarian who helped Kamkwamba translate the science books that inspired his resourcefulness are all key characters in the movie.
Ejiofor, who recently played Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange, has grand ambitions for his directorial debut: he wants it to open audiences’ eyes to the idea that similar life-changing moments are in reach for so many people in developing nations, if only they “have the opportunities they urgently need to carve out their own extraordinary destinies”.
While he may have to juggle his impressive responsibilities on this set with his commitments to the live-action reboot of The Lion King and the promotional cycle for Mary Magdalene (in which he’s playing apostle Peter), this is clearly something of a passion project for Ejiofor. His interest in the story can be traced back to January 2013, when news that he was adapting “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” first broke. His attachment as director came six months later, when the idea of the film’s helmer taking an acting role was being explicitly ruled out.
While his star turn as Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is undoubtedly the most unforgettable of all his performances, Ejiofor has been quietly putting in outstanding work for years. Consider, for example, the integrity he brings to the role of Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things or his elevating performance as Lola in the otherwise formulaic Kinky Boots. Stage-wise, his record is no less astounding: he’s played Othello three times, Romeo once, and the titular Everyman in Britain’s National Theatre production to critical acclaim. All to say, his decision to join the film’s cast – which includes Noma Dumezweni, Joseph Marcell, and Malawian activist-singer Lily Banda – is definitely good news for audiences.
The movie’s production line-up should equally excite: Mike Leigh’s cinematographer of choice Dick Pope (Legend, Mr. Turner) is lensing, while we’ll also get to see City of God’s production and costume designers Tulé Peak and Bia Salgado work their magic on the movie’s mise-en-scène.