Durban International Film Festival 2011
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.
Litondo who gives a powerful and well acclaimed performance in the role of Maruge is a former news anchor in Kenya who always had a passion to act. After a series of screen tests, Director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), was convinced that Litondo was perfect for the role as he had the same gentle qualities as Maruge and also shared the same views on education as Maruge did.
Kgoroge’s role in the film is as Charles, the husband of head teacher, Jane Obinchu. He is a rising star in South Africa, having starred in a number of feature films, including Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond, Lord Of War and Invictus. This South African-Kenyan-UK co-production also stars South African actors Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge and David Chege.
The First Grader has further strong South African connections with Videovision Entertainment being one of the co-production partners and Anant Singh and Helena Spring as executive producers; and South African born Emmy winner, Ann Peacock as writer.
“We are delighted to have the South African premiere of The First Grader at the Durban International Film Festival,” said executive producer, Anant Singh. “The Festival is the perfect platform to launch this special film which has been a hit at film festivals around the world,” added Singh.
The First Grader has achieved success 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 garnered the Best Film Award.
The First Grader will be released in South Africa on 23 September 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.