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The First Grader” Tops The Class At The Kenyan Film Festival

The First Grader scooped the main prizes at the Kenyan International Film Festival, winning the Best Actor (Oliver Litondo), Best Actress (Naomie Harris) and Best Film Awards it was announced at the closing ceremony of the Festival in Nairobi last night. The film, co-produced by Durban based, Videovision Entertainment, BBC Films, UK Film Council and Origin Pictures is directed by Justin Chadwick and stars Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris as well as South African actors Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge, Israel Kakoe and Shoki Mokgapa.

The success of The First Grader at the Kenyan International Film Festival is of special significance as it marks the culmination of the successful journey of an authentic Kenyan story which has received acclaim around the world, and returning to its roots to take the top prizes at Kenya’s premier film festival. The First Grader has found success at top international films since it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival last year. Among the awards are: The DGB Trade Union Award – Audience Choice and The Bernhard Wicki Award – Best Film at the Emden International Film Festival; the Audience Award: Best Feature Film and Director’s Choice Award: Best Feature Film at the Sedona International Film Festival; the Audience Award at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and the Pan African Film Festival; Best Film at the Palm Beach Film Festival and was runner-up to The King’s Speech for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as the Audience Prize at the Durban International Film Festival. Last week, Music Composer, Alex Heffes, won the Discovery of the Year prize for his work on The First Grader at the 2011 World Soundtrack Awards held at the 38th Ghent International Film Festival.

Commenting on receiving the Best Actor Award, Oliver Litondo said, “I am honoured to have won the Best Actor Award for playing Maruge, one of the most inspirational Kenyans of modern times, who made a strong statement about the value of education, underscoring the fact that one is never too old to go to school.”

Executive Producer, Anant Singh said, “We are delighted that The First Grader won the coveted prizes at the Kenyan Film Festival. It certainly is a triumph for the film and we are thrilled that Kenyans have embraced a story that is their own.”

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 currently on release in South Africa and is scheduled to be released in Kenya and the rest of East Africa and West Africa in December 2011.

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 Israel Makoe. 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.

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