Chiwetel Ejiofor on How Netflix "Maximises the Potential" of 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind'

By Grater, Tom | Screen International, January 25, 2019 | Go to article overview

Chiwetel Ejiofor on How Netflix "Maximises the Potential" of 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind'


Grater, Tom, Screen International


The debut director talks about shooting in Malawi.

On the eve of the Sundance world premiere of his directing debut, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, Chiwetel Ejiofor reveals why he believes Netflix is the ideal platform for the film.

“When I started making [The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind], it was hard to imagine how we would get the kind of reach that we can have with something like Netflix,” he enthuses. “This is part of the difficulty around independent cinema at this point - if you’re not going to release the film on 3,000 screens in the US, the channels are limited.”

“It’s always going to be sobering, to spend all the energy making a film and then through its distribution not really have a hope of reaching many people,” he continues. “The opportunity to work with Netflix on such an epic story like this, with their global reach, it maximises the potential of the film.”

While the UK actor-turned-filmmaker is excited by the prospect of the film reaching audiences through Netflix, he is also optimistic about its theatrical prospects. During discussions to seal the deal with the streamer, of which he was an active part, he made sure to highlight he wanted the film to play in cinemas.

“As soon as the conversation comes up, you negotiate and discuss [the film playing in cinemas],” he says. “You’re looking at the different platforms in which the film can be seen.”

Pushed to the limit

Ejiofor stars in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, as the father of William Kamkwamba, a young boy from Malawi who comes up with an inventive way to save his family from the prospect of starvation. The film is adapted from the novel of the same name, in which Kamkwamba recounts his own story.

Throughout this career as an actor – which has seen him Oscar nominated for his role in 12 Years A Slave – Ejiofor had always kept one eye on the possibility of a move behind the camera, as evidenced by his work as a filmmaker on shorts such as Slapper and Columbite Tantalite.

After first being sent the novel of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, Ejiofor began adapting it into screenplay and travelling back and forth to Malawi for research. “Eventually I came to the understanding that it would be good for me to also direct,” he explains. “I was so inside the material at that point anyway.”

The director teamed up with UKproducerAndrea Calderwood at Potboiler Productions, and the pair further developed the project. Later, BBC Films came onboard, followed by the BFI. Participant Media came on at a later stage to complete finance, while further backing came from Head Gear Films, Econet and LipSync.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind was comfortably the largest-scale production to ever shoot in Malawi, a country largely lacking in the infrastructure to house such a film shoot, meaning the team had to bring in the majority of their equipment from South Africa. Asked whether the scope of the project was daunting for his directing debut, Ejiofor replies with a Horatio Nelson quote – “the boldest are the safest”.

“It’s almost more straightforward to do something that pushes you to the limit – if you’re pushing to the extreme you know you’ll find something that is tangible and interesting in that journey. …

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