Entries in Telluride Film Festival (6)


The First Grader US Release May 13, 2011

National Geographic Entertainment

The First Grader will be released in the United States on May 13, 2011 by National Geographic Entertainment. The film will be launched in New York and Los Angeles and then expanded to other US cities in the forthcoming weeks. 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 has been a hit at prestigious international film festivals since its debut at the Telluride Film Festival last September. The film went on to the Toronto Film Festival where it was the runner up for the Audience Prize and then to the Doha and Pan African Film Festivals where it won the coveted Audience Prize. The First Grader trailer can be viewed at here.

The First Grader is an uplifting true story which realistically portrays the triumph the human spirit against all odds. We urge you to go watch the film and also tell your friends about the film. Hereunder is a list of US cities and theaters at which The First Grader will be playing :

MAY 13, 2011
New York The Beekman

Angelika Film Center
Los Angeles Landmark
May 20, 2011
Atlanta Tara Cinemas 4
Boston Kendall Square 9
Chicago Century Center 7

Renaissance Place Cinema
Dallas Landmark Magnolia Pictures
Houston Greenway Palace Stadium 24
Los Angeles Westpark 8
Philadelphia Ritz 5
San Diego La Jolla Village 4
San Francisco Embarcadero 5
Washington DC Shirlington 7

Bethesda Row
May 27, 2011
Albuquerque Devargas Mall Cinema 6
Austin Arbor Cinemas at Great Hills
Charlotte Regal Cinemas Manor Twin
Dallas Angelika Film Center & Café
Detroit Maple Art 3
Indianapolis Keystone Art
Kansas City Glenwood Arts
Knoxville Regal Downtown West Cinema 8
Los Angeles Playhouse 7

Town Center 5
Minneapolis Edina
New York Cinema 100 Quad

Clairidge 6

Roslyn 4
Phoenix Camelview 5
Portland Fox Tower Stadium 10
Salt Lake City Broadway Centre 6
San Francisco Shattuck 10
Seattle Metro Cinema
St. Louis Plaza Frontenac

Positive Response to The First Grader

Toronto International Film Festival

Movie City News KV Tweets from China Town, Toronto :

“Hearing very positive response to The First Grader, both from Telluride and here, so going to try catch it.”


The First Grader - Film Review

Telluride Film Festival

By Stephen Farber - The Hollywood Reporter

TELLURIDE, Colo. Stories about inspiring teachers have tantalized moviemakers and movie audiences since the era of Mr. Chips and Miss Dove. The latest incarnation, “The First Grader,” proved to be one of the biggest crowd-pleasers at this year’s Telluride Film Festival. Although the arc of the story might be familiar, the setting and characters are fresh. Art house audiences are likely to discover and embrace the film.

“The First Grader” is set in Kenya and recounts the true story of an 84-year-old farmer and former Mau Mau tribesman who decided to go to school when the country introduced universal education. Screenwriter Ann Peacock introduces Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old man with a walking stick, as he approaches the new school in his village and asks to enroll. The school authorities are reluctant to admit an octogenarian alongside 6-year-olds, and we gradually learn there are tribal rivalries that also contribute to their suspicion of Maruge. Teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) is equally skeptical, but when she observes Maruge’s unyielding determination to learn to read, she becomes his ally, even as she alienates her husband and government authorities who are just as bureaucratically rigid in Kenya as in so many other societies.

The film paints a vivid picture of rural and urban Kenya - Maruge eventually travels to Nairobi to plead his case - and it also sketches some of the forgotten history of the country.

Flashbacks reveal that Maruge suffered in a British prison camp and even lost his family at the hands of the British occupying forces. His past makes it painfully ironic that he faces so much discrimination at the hands of his own countrymen.

Director Justin Chadwick - best known for his superb BBC miniseries adapted from Dickens’ “Bleak House” - insisted on filming on location, and he enlisted locals for most of the roles in the film. Working with cinematographer Rob Hardy, he brings the countryside alive and also provides fascinating insights into a forgotten chapter of British colonial history.

Scenes in the classroom are entertainingly vital, aided by the natural performances of the Kenyan children. But the film shares the failing of many other films about inspiring teachers: It asserts that Jane is a marvelous influence on her students but doesn’t succeed in dramatizing revelatory moments in the classroom that might change the course of a young person’s life.

Because the writing falls down in some of these scenes, it helps that Harris - a veteran of small British movies as well as the gargantuan “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise - brings so much passion to her performance. She conveys Jane’s utter dedication while always leavening her performance with convincing moments of doubt and vulnerability. Litondo’s innate dignity is another major asset to the production. Chadwick strikes a perfect balance between humor and tragic gravity, and the result is that an unknown story seems certain to stir the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Venue : Telluride Film Festival

Cast : Naomie Harris, Oliver Litondo, Tony Kgoroge, Shoki Mokgapa, Alfred Munyua, Vusi Kunene
Director : Justin Chadwick
Screenwriter : Ann Peacock
Producers : Sam Feuer, Richard Harding, David M. Thompson
Executive producers : Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Anant Singh, Helena Spring
Director of photography : Rob Hardy
Production designer : Vittoria Sogno
Music : Alex Heffes
Costume designer: Sophie Oprisano
Editor : Paul Knight

No rating, 105 minutes


The First Grader scores at Telluride

Telluride Film Festival

By John Horn - Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Telluride, Colo. - Truth can certainly be stranger than fiction. If you look toward the Telluride Film Festival, it might also be stronger.

While the rest of Hollywood turns to far-fetched fantasies of flying superheroes, impossible romances and talking toys, the filmmakers behind the standout movies at the Colorado festival are finding that some of the year’s most powerful stories can be found in real-life events.

While that’s obviously the case with Telluride’s esteemed documentaries, three of the most enthusiastically received dramatic features at the just-concluded festival - the world premieres “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours” and “The First Grader” - are based on the extraordinary accomplishments of actual people. A number of the festival’s other prominent new features, including “The Way Back,” “Of Gods and Men,” “Carlos” and “Incendies,” also have historical events undergirding their foundation.

The narrative allure of such stories is easy. When moviegoers see the words “Based on a true story” just as a film commences, they might grant a movie prospective empathy - the audience is more willing to welcome, both intellectually and emotionally, what it is about to see. That connection was a powerful wave pushing last year’s “The Blind Side.”

Yet any director or writer who strays too far from the factual path can be condemned for fast-and-loose filmmaking. “A Beautiful Mind” was nearly derailed when its makers sanded off several rough patches in mathematician John Nash’s personal life, and “The Hurricane” was knocked out for its liberties with boxer Rubin Carter.

“I remember thinking after ‘3000 Degrees’ that I’ll never do another real-life story, the director and co-writer of “127 Hours,” says of a proposed movie about a Massachusetts firefighting tragedy that fell apart on the eve of production over life-rights issues. “It’s just too complicated. You don’t have control over the material.”

Yet when that true-life material is irresistible, filmmakers can find a way to make a film that is both creatively inventive and factually honest.

The people at the center of “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours” and “The First Grader” could barely be more disparate. The first film, directed by Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”), focuses on King George VI, the monarch who struggled to overcome a crippling speech impediment. The new movie from Boyle, who premiered in Telluride two years ago, recounts the harrowing wilderness experience of Aron Ralston, who amputated his own hand and forearm when pinned by a falling boulder. And “The First Grader,” from director Justin Chadwick, profiles an illiterate 84-year-old Kenyan villager who, after the government promised free education for all, hobbled into an elementary school and wouldn’t leave until he could learn to read.

As unalike (and, outside of Ralston, as potentially unfamiliar) as their stories might be, the characters share an against-all-odds quest that ultimately unites the cheering spectator with the journey. In a way, these are all versions of inspirational tales as recognizable as “Rocky,” “The Karate Kid” or even “The Bad News Bears.” Yet precisely because they are in large part true, “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours” and “The First Grader” are more affecting.

“The main thing was that it was uplifting,” Chadwick says of his interest in telling the story of “The First Grader’s” Nganga Maruge, a tale that came to filmmakers’ attention in a Los Angeles Times article. “You have to make something that is relevant these days, and it was a really good story.”

Chadwick shot his film, which stars the African actor Oliver Litondo as Maruge and Naomie Harris as his determined teacher, Jane Obinchu, in a remote Kenyan village with no electricity or running water and populated the cast with 200 local schoolchildren, most of whom had never seen a movie or TV show. While Chadwick and screenwriter Ann Peacock (“A Lesson Before Dying”) made several changes to the story (Obinchu in the movie is younger than in real life, there’s a radio announcer adding jokes and exposition), the movie endeavored to get geographic and historical details as accurate as possible.

The scars that Maruge bears on his back as a result of torture under Britain’s colonial rule are replicated in the film on Litondo’s body, and the songs the young students sing throughout the movie are their own creation. “The movie also celebrates the children, and the healing power of children, no matter what terrible things have happened in your life,” Chadwick says.

Boyle says that while it’s easy to look at Ralston’s story as an unimaginable demonstration of superhumanism, he believes that we are all capable of doing the same thing if the situation demanded it. So at many turns throughout “127 Hours,” he and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) excised scenes that created barriers between Ralston and the audience, meanwhile adding sequences that connected the trapped hiker to the rest of the world, crowd scenes and memories of an old girlfriend designed to be a magnet helping pull him free. “It may not be factual,” Boyle says of some of the added sequences, “but it’s truthful.”

The film preserves verbatim some of what Ralston says into his video camera during the ordeal, including a disorderly farewell to his parents, because it gives “127 Hours” a verisimilitude that polished scripting might lack. “It’s so slightly awkwardly written - a proper dramatist would never write the speech that way,” Boyle says. “But it felt very natural to leave it like that.”

Were Boyle making a purely fictional film, moviegoers, critics and studio executives would likely dismiss as preposterous some of the small bits in “127 Hours,” particularly a scene where Ralston, once freed and ready to try to be rescued, stops to take a photograph of his severed hand. “If it were in a script, they would say, ‘It’s just obscene. Throw it out.’ But because it really happened, it allows you to do it. And you can see the audience thinking, It must be true.”

As a young English child with a terrible stammer, David Seidler would listen to radio broadcasts of King George VI, who also had an almost incapacitating speech impediment. The King’s World War II addresses reminded Seidler that if the monarch could overcome stuttering, so could he: The king was his elocutionary inspiration.

Seidler grew up to become a screenwriter, writing “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” and numerous television programs, but he never forgot what he heard over the wireless so many decades earlier. He eventually adapted the story of the king and his relationship with his unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue, into a play, and the play has now become the movie “The King’s Speech.”

Even though the movie directed by Hooper is about the royal family and unfolds around Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, “The King’s Speech” follows common themes of friendship, perseverance and trust. Logue was a talented language pathologist (the film was shaped by a trove of his unpublished papers, records and diary entries), but his true gift was companionship. Like any good shrink or comrade, the therapist was able to reveal and manage some of the things - an oppressive childhood, chiefly - that twisted the king’s tongue in knots.

“What I felt the film was really about was that he was saved by friendship,” Hooper says. “Yes, it’s about a man with a stammer. But we all face blocks to becoming our better selves.”

The film is stuffed with period detail - “I’m obsessive about historical accuracy,” says Hooper, who also directed the miniseries John Adams.” One of the film’s most memorable lines comes not from biography, but from something Hooper’s father told the director. Educated in a heartless boarding school, the filmmaker’s dad suffered some of the same confidence-killing treatment as did King George VI.

So when Hooper told his father he was stuck on one scene, his father told him some of the best advice he ever heard was this: “You don’t need to be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were 5.” It’s Logue’s line to the king now, and it’s part of what makes “The King’s Speech” feel so real.


Heartfelt Standing Ovation at Telluride

Telluride Film Festval

Sam Feuer tweets from the Telluride Film Festival :

“THE FIRST GRADER receives a heartfelt standing ovation at Telluride…”