The First Grader, the first co-production between South Africa, the UK and Kenya which was released in the US by National Geographic Entertainment on 13 May, is to release on an additional 25 US screens on 27 May, bringing the total to 50 screens.
In addition The First Grader was sold to a number of territories at the recent Cannes Film Festival. Written by Ann Peacock, the film was directed by Justin Chadwick and stars Naomie Harris, Oliver Litondo, Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge and David Chege.
Based on a true story The First Grader 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.
American critics have lauded the film. The Los Angeles Times called the film “empowering’; The Atlanta Chronicle said the film was “earnest and well intentioned’; The Hollywood Reporter called it “an inspirational story’ while the Washington Post said it was “a heart-warming film’. The Huffington Post declared the film to be “heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time’ while Entertainment Weekly said it was “a dynamic drama’; The New York Daily News raved that the film was “tough-minded…soft-hearted with unexpected depth’; and New York Press said it was “a spectacle as beautiful as it is scarce’.
The critical success of The First Grader affirms the recognition received by the film 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 was bestowed with the Best Film Award.
“We are delighted with the accolades received by The First Grader as well as the critical and box office success it has achieved in the United States,’ said executive producer, Anant Singh. “The film tells a universal story of the triumph of the human spirit and underscores the importance of education. We are also thrilled that the discerning American audiences have embraced this South African/Kenyan/UK co-production,’ added Singh.
The First Grader will be released in South Africa later this year by Videovision Entertainment through United International Pictures (South Africa). It is a BBC Films and UK Film Council production in association with Videovision Entertainment, Lipsync and ARTE France. The First Grader is a Sixth Sense / Origin Pictures production, produced by David M. Thompson, Sam Feuer and Richard Harding and executive produced by Anant Singh, Helena Spring, Joe Oppeheimer and Norman Merry.