Skip to Content

William and the Windmill 2013

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711
Produced by {group theory} and Moving Windmills Project, Inc.
Directed by Ben Nabors
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - General Adult
Biography, Agriculture, Malawi

Date Entered: 01/13/2017

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Famine strikes William Kamkwamba’s farm family in rural Malawi and the young teen must drop out of school because his parents cannot pay the tuition. He sees the starving people around him behave in ways no one thought possible in their desperation to survive. Anxious to keep up his education in the midst of this tragic situation, William visits the school library, where he comes across a book titled Using Energy. It describes how a windmill produces electric power. Guided by the book’s illustrations, William decides to try building a windmill using available tools and materials—bicycle parts, tree limbs, bottle caps, twine, and things fashioned out of bits and pieces of junk.

William persists with his project despite his lack of expert knowledge, proper materials and tools, and the doubts of onlookers. And, he succeeds. He provides lights in his family’s home and a water pump for his father’s parched fields. His success attracts the attention of aid groups operating educational programs in Africa and, eventually, he enrolls in the African Leadership Academy.

On the positive side, the documentary’s production is outstanding. The filming and editing are as professional as one finds in a world class Hollywood feature film. William is engaging, upbeat, and charmingly direct interacting with his mentor, Tom Rielly, with publisher’s representatives, aid group leaders, and others. Shots of his Malawian village are splendid, revealing, and beautiful. The story is uplifting, offering evidence that youngsters can meet big challenges and overcome seemingly impossible odds to achieve life-changing results.

On the negative side, important details that could have been included are missing: How long did it take for William’s first windmill to be built? How did the organizations that supported him learn about his success? How much time elapsed between building the first windmill and several others that we see outside his house? When did he begin the educational program and when did he write the book about his experiences? When did he begin traveling around the world and decide to go to college in the United States? A few onscreen clues help answer some of these questions, e.g., brief onscreen captions state “6 months later,” and “5 years later.” But the flow of the story is unclear for the most part, and trying to understand the steps by which William goes from middle-school-drop-out-windmill-builder to internationally celebrated author to Dartmouth undergraduate are a series of isolated incidents.

Nevertheless, William’s story is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that you don’t have to have high-powered corporations and millions in government spending to improve the lives of people like the Kamkwambas and their village. Once in a great while, the dream of a gifted teenager, a lot of persistence, hard work, and the help of family and friends is all that it takes.