Streaming, diversity drive open doors for African stories: Ejiofor

Friday February 15 2019

Author William Kamkwamba, director and screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor, actress Aissa Maiga and actor Maxwell Simba.

Author William Kamkwamba, director and screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor, actress Aissa Maiga and actor Maxwell Simba pose for photographers during a photocall for the film "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" at the 69th Berlinale film festival on February 12, 2019 in Berlin. PHOTO | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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British-Nigerian actor-director Chiwetel Ejiofor said the rise of streaming platforms and a growing appetite for new voices in movies have opened the door for "epic" African stories to reach a global audience.

Ejiofor, who became a star with Kinky Boots before winning an Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave, presented his directorial debut at this week's Berlin film festival.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which will hit Netflix next month, is an adaptation of the international bestseller of the same name. It tells the true story of a 13-year-old whose invention saved his Malawian village from famine.

Ejiofor, who was born in London to a family from Nigeria, said the film had come together a watershed moment for new racial and gender perspectives in the entertainment industry that were next to impossible just a few years ago.

"There's a strong appetite for these films and for a diversity of voices and for this idea that we're all kind of culturally enriched when we understand where different people are coming from," he told reporters.

"Seeing stories... from one point of view is not very rewarding ultimately. I'm just looking forward to being a continuing part of that positive change."

Ejiofor, 41, noted that Netflix had jumped into the gulf left by major studios backing away from independent films in favour of global juggernauts.

"That's been a really exciting change," he said.

EPIC TALES

He said that trend had dovetailed with a realisation that people in parts of the world long off Hollywood's map had "incredibly big lives".

"These are epic tales, very rich stories that have all of the kind of the drama and dynamism that is part of the Western cinematic tradition," he said.

The film is based on the book by William Kamkwamba.

As his village faced mass starvation in 2001 due to a drought combined with government corruption and mismanagement, he used the dynamo from a bicycle to build a windmill.

The energy generated got a water pump working again and irrigated the parched fields.

Ejiofor, who plays William's father, filmed the movie on location in Malawi, largely in the Chichewa language.

"The challenges were mainly I suppose logistical just because there hadn't been a film of this size in Malawi," he said, noting that he had had to ship film equipment via Johannesburg and Nairobi to get it to the village where he was shooting.

"The flip side of that was that the benefits of shooting in Malawi were so vast in terms of having this kind of authentic experience and the desire to really allow an audience to kind of slip down the rabbit hole and experience this place."

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind screened in the festival's Berlinale Special sidebar section.

It was one of a series of pictures spotlighting actors-turned-directors.

Oscar winner Casey Affleck premiered Light of My Life, a dystopian story of a father trying to protect his daughter in a world without women.

And Jonah Hill presented Mid90s, a semi-autobiographical coming of age tale set among skateboarders in Los Angeles.

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