Entries in Justin Chadwick (21)


The First Grader pushes All The Right Buttons

The View London Review

By Matthew Turner

An enjoyable feel-good drama that pushes all the right buttons thanks to strong direction and terrific performances from Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris, though it’s also entirely predictable and some scenes may be too strong for young children.

What’s it all about?

Directed by Justin Chadwick, The First Grader is based on a true story and set in Kenya in 2003. Oliver Litondo stars as 84-year-old village elder and ex-freedom-fighter Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge, who decides to take advantage of a government free primary schooling initiative to gain the education he’s always wanted, prompted by the arrival of an important letter from the government that he’s unable to read.

Maruge duly presents himself at the gate of a school run by kindly Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) and her assistant Alfred (Alfred Munyua). After some initial resistance (Alfred insists Maruge must have a school uniform; Maruge turns up the next day in shorts, long socks and a shirt and tie), he’s allowed to join the school but his presence causes local and later national unrest, with seemingly only Jane prepared to fight his corner.

The Good

Oliver Litondo is superb, delivering a performance that is dignified, determined and quietly moving, while radiating warmth and humanity; his interactions with the children (especially a lame little girl and a boy who’s bullied by his strict father) are amongst the film’s highlights. Naomie Harris is equally good as Jane, generating strong chemistry with both Litondo and the children.

Chadwick’s direction is assured throughout, particularly during the schoolroom scenes, which have an authentic feel thanks to the use of a real school and its pupils. There’s also a lot of humour in the film, though some of the jokes are a little dodgy, for example a scene where Jane asks Maruge how he managed to control the kids and he replies that he threatened them with his stick, which would be a lot funnier if we hadn’t already seen Maruge use his stick to break up two fighting pupils in an earlier scene.

The Bad

The main problem with the film is that it’s relentlessly predictable from beginning to end, to the point that every scene unfolds exactly as you’d expect. In addition, the brutal flashback sequences (to Maruge being tortured by the British in the 1960’s) may prove too strong for younger viewers.

Worth seeing?

This is a well-made feel-good drama that makes up for its predictability with strong direction, an emotionally engaging script and terrific performances from its two leads. Worth seeing.


US Theatrical Distribution For First Grader

National Geographic Entertainment

By Brian Brooks - indiWIRE

Director Justin Chadwick’s “The First Grader” has been picked up by National Geographic Entertainment for U.S. theatrical distribution. The true tale about an 84-year-old Kenyan’s battle for an education screened at the recent Toronto and Telluride film festivals. It was a runner-up for the Toronto fest’s “People’s Choice Award.”

“The First Grader” tells the true story of Maruge (Oliver Musila Litondo), an old Mau Mau rebel in his eighties, who knocks on the door of a bush primary school, seeking the free education promised by the Kenyan government to everyone. Maruge fought for Kenya’s liberation and now feels he has earned the chance of the education he was denied for so long - even if it means sitting in a first-grade classroom with six-year-olds. The teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) supports Maruge’s struggle, and together they face the opposition from parents and officials who think it’s a waste educating this old man. Through his fight to learn how to read, Maruge and his teacher embark on a journey for a better future for himself and his country.

When I saw ‘The First Grader,’ I knew immediately that National Geographic should acquire it,” commented Daniel Battsek, president of National Geographic Films in a statement. “It’s not only about historic political events, but it tells a personal story with great warmth and humor. ‘The First Grader’ made Telluride and Toronto audiences laugh and cry, but it also made them think about the power of learning.”

Anant Singh at Distant Horizon, which co-financed the film, handled the domestic sale of “The First Grader;” Penny Wolf, at Goldcrest International, is handling international sales.

“The First Grader” is the latest in a string of major acquisitions for NGE including, “Restrepo,” the Everest adventure “The Wildest Dream,” and the upcoming “Desert Flower,” “Flying Monsters 3D” and “Blue Man Group: Mind Blast.”


National Geographic Snags First Grader

National Geographic Entertainment

By Pamela McClintock - Variety

National Geographic Entertainment is going back to school, snagging U.S. rights to Toronto Film Festival entry “The First Grader.”

Festgoers chose the pic as runner-up for the Toronto People’s Choice award. The acquisition caps a particularly busy festival, during which more than a dozen pics found U.S. distribution.

Directed by Justin Chadwick from a script by Ann Peacock, the pic is based on the true story of an 84-year-old Kenyan man’s battle to get an education.

“First Grader,” which garnered favorable critical response at the Telluride and Toronto fests, stars Oliver Musila Litondo and Naomie Harris.

Produced by Sixth Sense/Origin Pictures Productions, “First Grader” is a presentation of BBC Films and the U.K. Film Council in association with Videovision Entertainment, Lip Sync and ARTE France. Producers are David M. Thompson, Sam Feuer and Richard Harding. Joe Oppenheimer, Anant Singh, Norman Merry and Helena Spring exec produced.

“When I saw ‘The First Grader,’ I knew immediately that National Geographic should acquire it. It’s not only about historic political events, but it tells the personal story with great warmth and humor,” National Geographic Entertainment prexy Daniel Battsek said.

Battsek has made a handful of strategic festival buys since arriving at National Geographic from Miramax, including docu “Restrepo” and Mt. Everest adventure “The Wildest Dream,” as well as the upcoming “Desert Flower,” “Flying Monsters 3D” and “Blue Man Group: Mind Blast.”

Origin Pictures’ Thompson called National Geographic a perfect fit for the film.

Distant Horizon’s Singh repped domestic rights to “First Grader” (Distant Horizon co-financed the pic). Goldcrest International’s Penny Wolf is handling international sales.


Awards - The people have spoken.

TIFF People’s Choice Awards

The Calgary Herald

The winner of the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is Tom Hooper’s lighthearted royal drama The King’s Speech.

It chronicles the efforts of King George VI (Colin Firth) to rid himself of a chronic stutter, aided by an unorthodox Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).

The runner-up for the People’s Choice Award was Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader. Based on a true story, it follows an uneducated 84-year-old Kenyan man who learned his government was offering free primary education and showed up on the first day, ready to learn.


Runner-Up Award for First Grader

TIFF 2010

New York Magazine

The King’s Speech - the Colin Firth/Geoffrey Rush drama about a king’s attempts to overcome his stutter - has won the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival, confirming its status as an Oscar frontrunner. Runner-up for the audience prize was the Justin Chadwick-directed First Grader. The two most recent winners of the prize were Precious last year and Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.