WASHINGTON (Sept. 20, 2010)—National Geographic Entertainment (NGE) has acquired the film “The First Grader,” which generated positive attention at both the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals, for U.S. theatrical distribution. This true tale about an 84-year-old Kenyan’s battle for an education was the runner-up favorite in ballots cast for the Toronto Festival’s People’s Choice Award.
“The First Grader,” a BBC Films, UK Film Council in association with Videovision Entertainment, Lip Sync and ARTE France, a Sixth Sense/Origin Pictures production, was directed by Justin Chadwick and written by Ann Peacock. David M. Thompson, Sam Feuer and Richard Harding produced “The First Grader,” starring Naomie Harris and Oliver Musila Litondo. The executive producers were Joe Oppenheimer, Anant Singh, Norman Merry and Helena Spring; the co-producer was Trevor Ingman. The director of photography was Rob Hardy, the editor was Paul Knight, and the music was composed by Alex Heffes.
“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.
“The First Grader” is the latest in a string of major acquisitions for NGE that include the award-winning “Restrepo,” the Everest adventure “The Wildest Dream,” and the upcoming “Desert Flower,” “Flying Monsters 3D” and “Blue Man Group: Mind Blast.”
Daniel Battsek, president of National Geographic Films, says: “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 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.”
David Thompson, producer of Origin Pictures, adds: “We are thrilled that National Geographic is going to distribute the film. We believe they are a perfect fit given the strength of their brand and their massive international reach across all platforms. They will bring the film to the attention of millions of people worldwide. My producing partners Richard Harding and Sam Feuer of Sixth Sense are confident that ‘The First Grader’ will stir the hearts and imaginations of audiences all over the world as it has already done at Telluride and Toronto.”
Executive producer Anant Singh says: “We are very excited to be in business with National Geographic. Daniel Battsek has been a friend for many years and, although we received many offers from other companies to acquire ‘The First Grader,’ we decided to license it to National Geographic in view of Daniel’s passion for the film.”
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.
ABOUT ORIGIN PICTURES and SIXTH SENSE PRODUCTIONS
“The First Grader” is the first feature from Origin Pictures, David Thompson’s new production venture. Thompson was head of BBC Films for 10 years, where he was responsible for the development and backing of numerous award-winning features, from “Billy Elliot,” “Notes on a Scandal,” “Fish Tank,” and “Revolutionary Road” to last year’s Oscar-nominated “An Education.”
In production from Origin are: “The Awakening,” which stars Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, is directed by Nick Murphy and financed by Studio Canal, Optimum and the BBC; and “The Crimson Petal and the White,” a major four-part adaptation of the international best-seller, starring Romola Garai, Chris O’Dowd, Gillian Anderson, Richard E. Grant and Mark Gatiss.
Origin co-produced “The First Grader” with Richard Harding and Sam Feuer of Sixth Sense productions.
Sixth Sense was launched in 2002 by Harding, whose work in the film industry spans more than 10 years, working with companies such as Kennedy/Marshall, Silver Lion Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films. As well as producing, Harding’s business partner, Sam Feuer, also pursues a career as an actor. The company has a number of high profile projects in development and believes a good story told well can truly make a difference in how one sees the world.
ABOUT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENTERTAINMENT
National Geographic Entertainment (NGE) combines into a single operating group National Geographic Films (NGF), National Geographic Cinema Ventures (NGCV), Kids Entertainment and Music & Radio. In 2005 NGF co-presented the Academy Award-winning “March of the Penguins.” National Geographic World Films co-presented both the 2004 Oscar-nominated film “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” which received the Director’s Guild Award for best documentary and was nominated for an Academy Award, and Lu Chuan’s “Mountain Patrol: Kekexili.” NGCV released the 3-D concert film “U2 3D” to critical acclaim and set giant-screen box office records with “Mysteries of Egypt” and “Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure.” In 2009 NGCV released “Amreeka,” which was nominated for the Best Picture Gotham Independent Film Award and the Independent Spirit Award. In 2010 NGCV released the critically praised “Restrepo,” which won the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary Award. Currently in release is “The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest.” NGE and ImageNation Abu Dhabi co-produced with Exclusive Media Group Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” which premiered at this year’s Telluride Film Festival and will be released by Newmarket Films.
Daniel Battsek is president of NGF, Lisa Truitt is president of NGCV, and Mark Katz is president of NGCV Distribution.
NGE is part of National Geographic Global Media, bringing together all of National Geographic’s editorial platforms to streamline collaboration and support the Society’s mission. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” National Geographic works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 375 million people worldwide each month through magazines, books, digital media, television, radio, music, film and live events. It funds over 250 scientific research, exploration and conservation projects each year and supports an education program promoting geography literacy. For more information, visit www.nationalgeographic.com.