First Grader premieres in Johannesburg


The First Grader, co-produced by Durban based Videovision Entertainment, the BBC, UK Film Council and Origin Pictures had its South African premiere in Johannesburg this week.

Director Justin Chadwick, executive producers Anant Singh and Helena Spring and local actors Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge, Israel Kakoe and Shoki Mokgapa were all in attendance. 

Speaking at the premiere, Anant Singh said: “The making of The First Grader has been quite a journey and we are pleased to be able to present it in South Africa as the first ever co-production between South Africa, Kenya and the United Kingdom. Making the film has been a real privilege for us, especially that it is an African story and for us as Africans to produce the film. We are thrilled with this inspirational film about Africa, focussing on the amazing story of one man’s journey in his quest to be educated.’

Director Justin Chadwick also emphasised that it is an African story. “We didn’t do what most international movies do when they come to Africa – we didn’t ship everything in. We worked in Africa with an African crew, which I have to say are some of the best in the world. We had amazing talent in this film, both Kenyan and South African including the script writer, Ann Peacock who is also from South Africa. Some of the actors are here tonight and they really helped make this film feel authentic. We lived in the community we were working with and we involved the whole community. The school that you see in the film, was one school and the whole school was cast. This film is proof that you can make a film without the machine of Hollywood,’ said Chadwick.

The guest of honour at the event was Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Enver Surty while other VIP guests included Deputy Minister of Public Works, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu; DG in the Presidency, Dr Cassius Lusibi; Constitutional Court Judge, Justice Zak Yacoob, former Minister Barbara Hogan; struggle veteran, Ahmed Kathrada and musician Hugh Masekela.

Deputy Minister Surty said: “The timing of this film is very appropriate as last Thursday (8 September) was International Literacy Day. Literacy and numeracy is the cornerstone of Basic Education as much as the Bill Of Rights is a cornerstone of our constitutional democracy. The film is a wonderful inspiration and certainly we will be able to draw parallels and comparisons between the experience of the Kenyan population and their struggle for freedom and it will no doubt resonate extremely well with our South Africans. But, most importantly, the most powerful message of this film is the fact that we achieve our dignity through education – through the ability to read, write and calculate.’

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 will be released at cinemas nationally on 23 September 2011 by Videovision Entertainment through United International Pictures (UIP) South Africa.


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