Between the complete 5-film Terrence Malick retrospective and Artists’ Cinema series, the month of May is shaping into a cinephile’s delight. On Wednesday, May 11, the cinematic mayhem continues at the Walker with a special FREE screening of The First Grader, the latest effort by English television and film director Justin Chadwick. An official selection of the Telluride, Toronto, and London film festivals, the picture focuses on the enchanting true-life story of Kimani Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old Mau Mau veteran who fought against the British occupation of Kenya during the 1950s, whose seemingly simple dream and ambition is to learn to read and write before his life is over. Ambushed by officials who deem him too old to be a student, the narrative verve revolves around Maruge’s insurmountable determination and drive to educate himself.
The uplifting true story of the world’s oldest primary school student, The First Grader reels you in with its human-interest hook, but packs an even more vital agenda: enlisting Kenyan locals to share little-known details of their nation’s independence. Director Justin Chadwick’s admirable effort manages to do more than inspire, educating audiences with an important chapter in African history—specifically, the treatment of Mau Mau freedom fighters.
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And while Chadwick’s humanistic portrait is certain to warm the heart and lift the spirit, he does so without indulging in mawkish sentiment. An achievement that is becoming increasingly rare in contemporary cinema. Photographed on location in Kenya by Rob Hardy, the sparkling, sun-kissed imagery is truly something to behold.
A discussion of the film with the director follows the screening.