With only a library book as his guide, 14-year-old William Kamkwamba sets about building a wind turbine in his Malawian village.
Hello Ben your film, William and the Windmill, is getting its world premiere at this years SXSW Film Festival, what was it like when you got the news you had been selected?
We were thrilled. SXSW is a great home for the film. I have a lot of respect for Janet Pierson and really appreciate her taste and tone as reflected in past festival programs. For her to choose our film for competition is a real honour.
This has been FIVE years in the making, what does it feel like to be able to now show it at such a major festival?
The film has been a struggle. There's no other way to say it. Independent filmmaking can be a painful process, and at many points along the way, I wasn't sure if we'd finish it. That the work will premiere at a major festival gives me hope that the story will get the hard look from audiences that it deserves.
What has it been like for you and the team having this film part of your life for the past fives years?
A gift. A burden. I am very happy with this film, but it's impossible to overlook the struggles I've had making it over the past five years. In that way, it's a complete relationship, I suppose, with the good and the bad.
That all said, I have tremendous respect for our subject, William Kamkwamba, and his mentor, Tom Rielly. Both are characters in the film, and I've had the opportunity to work closely with them, study them, think about their experiences, and learn with them. That's been invaluable.
Has it been easy to let it go now and leave up to audiences (and critics) to decide?
No. We are nervous about our premiere. I think everyone would tell you that.
"It's a search every step of the way. You just try to remain authentic, and retain a trust for the idea."
Tell us a little bit about this film?
WILLIAM AND THE WINDMILL tells the story of young Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba, who taught himself how to generate electricity by building a windmill from scrap parts. The film starts at this point of inspiration, and then follows William as his life undergoes tremendous change. He becomes an energy icon of the developing world and a best-selling author, but remains the introspective, quietly brilliant young person that first imagined building a windmill. The film is about the complexities within that balance.
What made you want to tell this story?
I produced a short film about William in 2008 called "Moving Windmills". The film won several awards, had a successful festival run, and a tremendous impact on William's life. That initial experience drew me in, and I committed to making a feature. Here we are, five years later…
Once you knew that this was the film you wanted to make what was your next steps?
Honestly, I didn't know the film I was making till well into the edit process. I believe that is the process of documentary. It's a search every step of the way. You just try to remain authentic, and retain a trust for the idea.
Now, after knowing, it feels like a ride and we just follow the story.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
I love storytelling and I believe film is the predominant mode that we have at our disposal right now.
I think I'm a natural organizer, even to a fault, and I like to distill systems into parts and make sure those parts are working. I think that's being a producer.
Do you remember what your first producing job was?
I threw a lot of parties in college and I took them very seriously. That was my first experience working hard for the entertainment of others.
What it a steep learning curve?
I am still learning, and it doesn't feel like much of a curve at all.
You have also used Kickstarter to help with the funding of the film, how important are crowdfunding sites like this in helping to get movies made?
This movie would not have happened without the help of our Kickstarter backers. It simply wouldn't exist. In the case of WILLIAM AND THE WINDMILL, it was essential. In other cases, I'm not so sure.
Do you see more films using these avenues to getting their movies made?
Yes, but there is consequence to crowd funding art projects.
What was the first film you saw that made you want to get into filmmaking?
It didn't happen that way for me. I never thought I would be making films professionally. It seemed too improbable a job.
Books were more influential, originally. It was probably the work of novelist Walker Percy that got me in to storytelling.
Documentaries can pose some of the most difficult films to make how did you ensure you where able to still tell the story you wanted to tell?
We continued to ask ourselves the questions, "what will make the best film?" and "What is the most important story to tell?"
What do you hope people to take away from your film?
I think the film is about the true complexities in human relationships, and the long and unforeseen outcomes of our decisions and our successes. I hope people come away from the film with an appreciation for this complexity, in the lives of the characters in the film and in their own.
And finally, what has been the best advice you have been given?
"There is no b-roll. There are no talking heads." - Jonathan Oppenheim