Dr Zola Skweyiya, the South African High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, hosted a cocktail party at South Africa House in London to celebrate the United Kingdom premiere of the Videovision Entertainment co-production, The First Grader which had a gala screening at the London Film Festival on Tuesday night. The First Grader is the first co-production between a South Africa and Kenya.
The premiere was attended by the leads, Kenyan star, Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris; director Justin Chadwick and the producing team as well as a number of high profile guests, among whom were James Bond producer, Barbara Broccoli and twice Oscar Nominated director, Stephen Frears.
At the cocktail event, which preceded the gala screening at the prestigious Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square, the High Commissioner paid special tribute to Videovision Entertainment’s CEO, Anant Singh for his contribution to the South African Film Industry. “What makes Anant’s achievement all the more exceptional is that his success story began during the apartheid years, despite the challenges of an industry beset with so many obstacles for black South African filmmakers,” said Dr Skweyiya. “What I admire most about Anant is that as a film producer he has added so much to South Africa’s wealth of arts and culture. Anant with his vision, passion and drive, and his extraordinary love and understanding of film, has given uniquely African stories wings so that they can travel across the globe. For this incredible achievement South Africa owes him a debt that can be never repaid,” he continued.
Anant Singh commenting from Doha where The First Grader will be the Closing Night Film at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival said, “I am humbled by the kind words from High Commissioner, Dr Skweyiya. We thank him for his gracious hosting of this event to celebrate the premiere of The First Grader. The film is an authentic African story that is uplifting and inspirational. We are delighted with the positive reaction the film has already received at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals.”
The First Grader has a strong South African association apart from Videovision Entertainment being one of the co-production partners, with the film featuring well-known South African actors Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge and David Chege and it is written by South African born Emmy winner, Ann Peacock.
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.
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.