First Hit: Although slow and methodical, the story is worth telling and watching.
This film is based on a true story of a young boy, in Malawi with a thirst for learning, who figures out how to irrigate crops in their dry season.
Trywell and Agnes Kamkwamba (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Aissa Maiga respectively) are husband and wife farmers trying to survive through the growing monsoons and drought cycles of their African nation. The storms are getting worse at washing the land away because trees are being harvested for money which is affecting how the rain affects the area. It is also making the dry seasons worse because with the trees gone, the wind is blowing the topsoil away.
Without irrigation and these wild weather swings in the effects are creating smaller annual harvests. The village is slowly starving to death.
The Kamkwamba’s have three children. The two oldest, Annie and William (Lily Banda and Maxwell Simba respectively), are smart. Being a woman, in a patriarchal society, Annie is not able to continue her education. William is being sent to high school, but because of the poor harvests, the family cannot continue to pay for his education and gets expelled. He returns to the fields to work alongside his father.
However, William’s curious nature, as we witness by watching him fix radios, he continues to explore and learn about electricity and battery power. He studies the physical mechanics of using wind to drive voltage. His thirst for learning and helping the community is held back by his inability to go to school and requirement to assist in the fields.
What the story also highlights along the way, is the corruption and dictatorship aim of the government. How this village lives on the edge of starvation because of government policies and people willing to sell their land for tree harvesting.
When we witness the villagers attempting to buy food from the government, we see the depth of their suffering. People rob the Kamkwamba’s of their stored food. We watch as corruption and control rear its ugly head when the Prime Minister visits the village and dislikes what the village chief says during a speech.
The slowness of the film does reflect the way life moves in this African village. The audience has to be patient as this film unfolds.
When William figures out, he can make a windmill for creating electricity to activate a water pump that could pump water from a well for irrigating crops, he’s excited. Then the battle becomes how he can convince, the village and mostly his father to trust him.
The scenes are expertly filmed and beautifully shot. They provided a real sense of despair and the dilemma facing the family. Additionally, I loved the use of stilt dancers who come to honor someone’s death.
Ejiofor was excellent as the father raising two smart children and trying his best to do what is right for the family and village. He learns to let go and trust his family. Maiga was fantastic as the family’s wife and mother. Her intelligence and strength are the underlying power of the film. Simba was sublime as William. His dance between being curious and smart while also maintaining his responsibility to work the fields with his father was brilliant. Banda was beautiful as William’s sister. Her ability to be smart but also meet the expectations of the family was great. When she sacrificed her independence to assist the family and help William obtain a “Dynamo” was both sad and joyful. Ejiofor both wrote the screenplay and directed this film as well. As I mentioned one has to be ready for the slow pacing, but for me, it was worth it.
Overall: This was an excellent adaptation of a true story, and during the credits, the audience gets a glimpse of this amazing person.