Chiwetel Ejiofor Wanted To Make Sure This Movie Existed

Chiwetel Ejiofor directs, writes, and stars in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. (Courtesy of Netflix)

By Andrea Gutierrez with John Horn and Darby Maloney

Chiwetel Ejiofor remembers the exact moment he decided that William Kamkwamba's memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind should be made into a movie.

He'd just read the part where Kamkwamba snuck back into school after being thrown out because his parents could no longer afford the fees.

"I put down the book at that point and just thought, what was I doing at 13? What was my relationship to school when I was 13 years old?" he told the Frame.

You might have seen Kamkwamba's TED Talks or the 2013 documentary about him. During a severe famine in resource-poor Malawi in 2001, he built a windmill in his farming village when he was just 14, changing the lives and fortunes of his community. He did it using old American textbooks from his primary school's library, with a shaky command of the English language.

Kamkwamba's initial push for an alternate energy source tied back to his hunger for an education. He wanted to power a light bulb so that he could read at night, avoiding the financial and health costs of burning kerosene at home. But he could also see how this knowledge would help his family and village at a time of crisis.

Despite his enthusiasm for the story, Ejiofor didn't necessarily think he was the one to write, direct, and star in the film. He initially used the source material as an exercise in screenwriting, but got serious about making the movie when he realized that leaving it up to others might not be the best path.

Ejiofor remembered thinking, "If I don't do this, it might not happen."

Ejiofor's understanding of the relationship between William and his father, Trywell, is at the heart of the story. In the film, William realizes his education has given him access to knowledge that his dad doesn't possess, and William knows he has to help find solutions.

"There are other people. There is another generation," Ejiofor said. "And they aren't going to solve it. [William] has to assist them. It's no longer going to be the other way around."

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind premieres March 1 in select theaters and on Netflix.

Listen to this interview on KPCC's The Frame podcast.