The First Grader the first co-production between South Africa, the United Kingdom and Kenya which was released in the United States by National Geographic Entertainment on 13 May 2011 has been embraced by both critics and general audiences. The film will be released on an additional twenty five screens in the United States this coming Friday, 27 May 2011 bringing it to a total of 50 screens. The film also saw brisk sales at the Cannes Film Festival where it was snapped up by a number of territories.
Critics in the United States have lauded the film with excellent reviews. The Los Angeles Times called the film “empowering“, The Atlanta Chronicle said the film was “earnest and well intentioned“, The Hollywood Report called it “an inspirational story” while the Washington Post said it was “a heart-warming film” and The Huffington Post declared the film to be “heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time” while Entertainment Weekly said it was “a dynamic drama“, The New York Daily News raved that the film was “tough-minded…soft-hearted with unexpected depth” and New York Press said it was “a spectacle as beautiful as it is scarce“.
The critical success of The First Grader affirms the recognition received by the film at top international film festivals since it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival last September and then at the Toronto Film Festival where it was the runner up for the Audience Prize, the Doha and the Pan African Film Festivals where it won the coveted Audience Prizes and the Palm Beach Film Festival where it was bestowed with the Best Film Award.
“We are delighted with the accolades received by The First Grader as well as the critical and box office success it has achieved in the United States,” said executive producer, Anant Singh. “The film tells a universal story of the triumph of the human spirit and underscores the importance of education. We are also thrilled that the discerning American audiences have embraced this South African/Kenyan/UK co-production,” added Singh.
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 will be released in South Africa later this year by Videovision Entertainment through United International Pictures (South Africa).
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.