The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind (2019). Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Starring Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Aissa Maiga.
Billed as an uplifting story of a boy saving his village from the Malawian famine of 2001 and while it may well eventually be just that the remarkable thing about Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut is that his gaze focuses intently on the cost of that famine and the hardships endured by those suffering their way through it – providing a pretty powerful and unflinching look at the problems endured by African countries in the modern world.
Had Netflix not provided an outlet for it, it is easy to imagine studio attempts to convert it into a heart-warmingly comedic Cool Runnings type picture which would be fatally at odds with the anger that flows through the tale – anger that we still live on a planet where people have to endure such times.
A bleached colour palette completes the pale, washed out, lifeless look as fertile farmland is reduced to arid desert by a devastating drought. Families and villages find themselves trapped between the desire to seek a modern, educated, democratic future and a government mired in corruption. Their culture all too often reverting to discounted, traditional belief systems when faced with crises due to a simple lack of access to education.
Education, which Ejiofor’s screenplay makes clear is the solution to the problems facing the continent. Educating the young of those countries so that they can themselves find the solutions to them and enable isolated village communities to have a viable future providing food for their countrymen and women.
The film is unflinching in its realism without stooping to brutality in its portrayal of hunger and social discord. Hopeful about the future without seeming naïve and more than anything alive to the possibilities of allowing children access to books – a message which can soar above continental boundaries at a time when libraries are being closed with alarming rapidity.