The spirit of Maruge, the 84 year old first grader, was brought to London on a chilly autumn evening, when star actor Oliver Litondo and lead actress Naomie Harris stepped on to the red carpet at the Odeon in Leicester Square.
Away from the glamour however there were some fundamental issues raised by the stars. The First Grader may well be a landmark in Kenya’s Film Industry, but the lack of creativity and understanding of the power of film by those in position, has put paid to a great opportunity to market the country’s ideals.
Speaking on the London experience, this apathy was further pronounced, when the South African Embassy hosted the film’s stars and production team at the South Africa House, before the premier on Tuesday, coupled by the resounding absence of the Kenya High Commission staff at any of the functions.
Asked if the film will spur the Government into investing in similar ventures, Mr Litondo, a Harvard alumni, in Theatre Arts, sadly noted the lack of appreciation so far, but enthused that with the new constitution in place, it will only be a matter of time before the whole industry is revolutionised, “I believe with young people coming up, they will be able to open the archives that have been hitherto out of bounds, so we can fetch our own stories and make films about our own people.”
Mr. Litondo said fans back in Nairobi had also wondered why a film shot in Kenya and whose main actor and supporting actors were Kenyan, could be celebrated by the South Africans while the Kenya High Commission had nothing planned.
The co-star Naomie Harris was the ultimate ‘Lady’, so elegant and well spoken with surprising humility; the British born actress lauded the welcoming nature of the Kenyan people which she found inspiring, “Working with the children was amazing; you could feel that wonderful sense of community sipping through. And their appreciation for the Now and living for the Now!” She revealed that despite the long hours put in the children never for once complained.
Naomie Harris played Mwalimu Jane to the T. She was astounding.
Naomie is looking forward to returning to Kenya during the film launch there, “We plan to go and show the film at the school on widescreen for the children and the community.” She said, the film had a universal message about the need for free Education for all people regardless of age and gender, “We live in a really ageist society, which thinks once you are over 35, then your life is over, but the First Grader has a different message; that regardless of your age you can turn your life around and realise your dreams.”
In the film, Naomie was sensational, you cannot believe she is British and dons a posh accent, in fact you would think (except for some little traces of southern Africa accent) that she was picked from a village in Bungoma or Busia!
Also braving the chill among the usual crowd that just loves premiers was celebrity guest, former Eastenders actress Michelle Ryan, who said she loved going to premiers and may one day go into film acting.
The few Kenyans that managed to watch the premier were just over the moon; Salphares noted; “Halafu set yenyewe iko home huko ngong hills, imenibamba mbaya sana!” (The setting was in my home-town Ngong Hills, which really excited me, can’t get over it. Mashaa Thiongo was grateful for the opportunity; “I could not have missed it for anything, great showing by Kenyans, we need more.”
The exclusive Oliver Litondo interview will soon appear on video. If you want to share in his dreams and baspirations… Just watch this space.
The First Grader team left London on Tuesday evening for Dohar where they attend a premier of the movie this week before proceeding to Hong Kong China. They are expected in the US in April next year.
The shows in London were part of the British Film Institute – BFI – film week that ran from 13-28th October. The First Grader was given extended viewing till the 28th October 10…So if u can get the ticket. Just log on to the BFI website and book online.