The First Grader, produced by Videovision Entertainment, will have a gala premiere at the London Film Festival on Tuesday, 26 October at the prestigious Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. The premiere will be preceded by a cocktail reception at South Africa House in Trafalgar Square hosted by Anant Singh and with the South African High Commissioner, Dr Zola Skweyiya and Deputy High Commissioner, Cyril Ndaba attending with the lead stars of the film, Kenyan star, Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris; director Justin Chadwick and the producing team. The after-party for the film will be hosted by Microsoft Windows 7 at the trendy Aqua Nueva restaurant. The film also has a strong South African connections as it also stars well-known South African actors Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge and David Chege, while it is written by South African born Emmy winner, Ann Peacock.
The First Grader premiered at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals last month where it was lauded by both the audiences and critics and it was the runner-up in the Audience Prize competition at the Toronto Film Festival. Variety reported that the film had an ‘enthusiastic, wet-eyed reception’ and that it was “an effective, emotional uplift”. The Hollywood Reporter said the film was “one of the biggest crowd-pleasers at the Telluride Film Festival and that audiences will “embrace the film” and was a “perfect balance between humour and tragic gravity….certain to stir the hearts of audiences worldwide.” Toronto’s respected Globe and Mail newspaper predicted that The First Grader will be an Oscar contender.
The First Grader, based on a true story, is set in a remote primary school in the Kenyan bush where hundreds of children are jostling for a chance for the free education promised by the new Kenyan government. One new applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school. He is Maruge, an old Mau Mau veteran in his eighties, who is desperate to learn to read at this late stage of his life. He fought for the liberation of his country and now feels he must have the chance of an education so long denied – even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-olds. Moved by his passionate plea, head teacher Jane Obinchu, supports his struggle to gain admission and together they face fierce opposition from parents and officials who don’t want to waste a precious school place on such an old man.
Commenting on The First Grader, Anant Singh said, “We had originally planned on shooting The First Grader in South Africa, however, after visiting Kenya, we unanimously decided that it should be shot on location in Kenya in order to retain its authenticity. We are proud to be involved in the film which is the first South Africa-Kenya film production, a collaboration with Origin Pictures; the Kenyan based Blue Sky Films and Videovision Entertainment.”
The First Grader is a BBC Films and UK Film Council production in association with Videovision Entertainment, Lipsync and ARTE France. It is a Sixth Sense / Origin Pictures production directed by Justin Chadwick and stars Naomie Harris, Oliver Litondo, Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge and David Chege. It is written by Ann Peacock, produced by David M. Thompson, Sam Feuer and Richard Harding and executive produced by Anant Singh, Helena Spring, Joe Oppeheimer and Norman Merry.
The film will be released at cinemas in South Africa early next year through United International Pictures.