With his first fall festival buy since he took over National Geographic Films, ex-Miramax president Daniel Battsek has acquired U.S. rights for Toronto and Telluride title The First Grader. Battsek had been looking for just the right movie that would fit into the National Geographic mandate to reveal something about our world. (Battsek chose not to release National Geographic’s prisoner-of-war film The Way Back, directed by Peter Weir and starring Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Jim Sturgess, preferring to supervise Newmarket Films instead.) When I spoke to Battsek at TIFF, he said, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
So he found it in this four-hankie true story about an 84-year-old Kenyan’s struggle for learning, which was the runner-up to The King’s Speech for Toronto’s People’s Choice award. “When I saw ‘The First Grader,’ I knew immediately that National Geographic should acquire it,” stated Battsek.”It’s not only about historic political events, but it tells a personal story with great warmth and humor.”
In the film Mau Mau rebel Maruge (Oliver Musila Litondo) seeks to attend the local primary school, figuring he fought for this free education. Teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) supports him in this fight against parents and officials. National Geographic also released Afghan War doc Restrepo, Everest adventure The Wildest Dream and the upcoming Desert Flower, Flying Monsters 3D” and Blue Man Group: Mind Blast.
The first feature from Origin Pictures, ex-BBC chief David Thompson’s new production company, The First Grader was backed by BBC Films and the (soon-to-be-defunct) UK Film Council in association with Videovision Entertainment, Lip Sync and ARTE France. The Sixth Sense/Origin Pictures Production was directed by Justin Chadwick, written by Ann Peacock and produced by Thompson, Sam Feuer and Richard Harding. Exec producers were Joe Oppenheimer, Anant Singh, Norman Merry and Helena Spring.