Predictably the production of the Malawian inspired Hollywood film, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind has generated so much interest both within the Malawi borders and even beyond.
For the countries far and beyond, they have understandably been wound up by the intriguing story of a Malawian innovator, engineer and author William Kamkwamba being told through the motion picture.
His invention of a turbine engine from materials from a scrapyard such as old bicycle parts and blue gum trees which was used to power electrical appliances in his village in Wimbe, Kasungu, is not a story that you get to hear and see every day.
It is with little wonder that his genius proved to be a key that unlocked doors to a life that he probably never dreamt of not even in the deepest of slumbers that he enjoyed during the whole of his innocent upbringing in the rural corners of Kasungu.
There will be no prizes for explaining why Malawians have been taken up with the movie. Kamkwamba, whose exploits the film originated from, is one of our own. Though it had to take American actor-cum producer Chiwetel Ejiofor to see the potential in this story and make it into a movie, by extension Malawians can still claim this production to be theirs.
When the team from Hollywood touched down on Malawi soil as far back as 2011 to start the work of identifying the local cast and sets for filming of the movie, there was not much hullabaloo about the project.
At least everything went on silently. In fact, a majority remained ignorant of what was going in the country at the time. Save for those who were involved in one way or another or those who were resident in the areas of interest in as far as the production of the movie is concerned.
Not many cared who would be cast in the movie or not. Few cared what sort of language and accent will be used in the production. But things are capable of changing in a given space of time.
A month ago the trailer of the movie, which is set to debut on Netflix on March 1, was released. Then boom! Everybody has not spared the opportunity to weigh in on what they think of the film. The biggest talking point being the strange Chichewa accent the characters are speaking in the movie.
It is a debate that has rumbled on various social media spaces for weeks now. It was only this week, on Tuesday evening to be precise, that director of the film Chiwetel made the first attempt to clear the air about talk surrounding the ‘strange Chichewa accent.’
As we would all guess the reasons he gave were technical. The cast of the film, as is done elsewhere, dictated by the potential shown by the available actors to fit into the assigned roles. It was not just a matter of filling up the cast to please a certain section but they had to focus on the quality of their end product too.
But perhaps what Malawians should ponder on is what the production unit manager for the film Jones Mbera said in the aftermath of Chiwetel’s interview with the BBC. The production team did not receive the best reception on their calls for auditions when they were selecting the cast.
Given all the interest the movie has generated now, this is quite fascinating. Mbera says in some schools they went to search for talent they were out-rightly dismissed though they had all required identification documents.
Having been left with limited options to pick from, the team from Hollywood was forced to seek human resource elsewhere, and Kenya was their next stop. Too bad for the aspirations of our film industry.
Despite this, 20 Malawians were roped for roles that involved them to recite over ten lines in the film. And 2 000 others were taken on board as extras. This was not in any way bad given the circumstances.
Before climbing the roof tops to cry wolf about the strange Chichewa accent, we needed also to bring in the equation several factors such as quantity and quality of the workforce that the country made available to Chiwetel and crew.
We may argue that Malawi has a pool of talent. Yes! The potential is there but the aggression we showed in the face of this opportunity was wanting. Let us quit the crying, enjoy this movie and plan to do better next time. If at all that next time comes soon. n