In a remote Kenyan primary school hundreds of children are jostling for a chance for the free education newly promised by the Kenyan government. One new applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school: Maruge, a Mau Mau veteran in his eighties who is desperate to learn to read.
A film by Justin Chadwick
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English, Kikuyu
Producer: David M. Thompson, Sam Feuer, Richard Harding
Executive Producer: Joe Oppenheimer, Norman Merry, Anant Singh, Helena Spring
Screenplay: Ann Peacock
Official description (TIFF 2010, Toronto)
The premise is irresistible. When the government of Kenya announces it will offer free primary education for the first time, an eighty-four-year-old man shows up on the doorstep of a rural school, ready for class. Having never had the benefit of an education, Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge figures it's never too late to start. Towering over the little children at their desks, he is just as eager to learn.
The First Grader is an inspiring story about the universal human urge to make our lives better. But this is more than just a high-concept fable; Maruge's story is true. As adapted by screenwriter Ann Peacock and director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), the film spins the tale in a timeless fashion, even as it builds a context from the specifics of one man's life.
Maruge (Oliver Litondo) was part of the generation that helped liberate Kenya from British colonial rule. He spent his youth fighting for freedom, and endured horrors occasionally shown in flashback. Now, what he really wants is the education he never had the time or opportunity to obtain.
Although the announcement of free education was meant to liberate families from the onerous school fees that keep so many African children out of the classroom, Maruge spots a chance and takes it. But when he arrives at the school gate, teacher Jane (Naomie Harris) turns him away. She has no legal reason, so she says he'll need books and a pencil. Maruge returns with both. Then she says he'll need a uniform. He comes back wearing a school uniform - short pants and all. Scene by scene, he begins to warm the heart of a teacher who's strict nature is, of course, only a feature of having kept a rural school on its feet for so long.
Litondo is wonderful as Maruge, showing both the strength and humour of the man. Although he depends on a walking stick to get around and his eyes aren't what they used to be, he's living proof that you're never too old to learn.
Cameron Bailey (TIFF 2010, Toronto)
Anno 2003. Approfittando di un programma governativo che garantisce l'istruzione elementare a qualsiasi cittadino, il Keniano Maruge, ottantaquattrenne, ex guerriero Mau-Mau che ha visto la propria famiglia sterminata sotto i propri occhi, decide di tornare tra i banchi di scuola per imparare a leggere e capire cosa gli ha scritto qualche tempo prima in una lettera il Presidente della Repubblica. Per realizzare il suo sogno dovrà scontrarsi con l'ostilità della comunità locale e le rigide norme scolastiche, che lo vorrebbero espellere sin dal primo giorno. Il film si ispira alla vera storia di Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge, morto nel 2009 all'età di novant'anni e riconosciuto dal Guinness dei Primati come uomo più anziano iscritto in una scuola elementare.
di Justin Chadwick - Kenya, Gran Bretagna, USA 2010
Interpreti: Naomie Harris, Sam Feuer, Tony Kgoroge, Oliver Litondo, Nick Reding, Israel Makoe, John Sibi-Okumu, Vusi Kunene
Sceneggiatura: Ann Peacock
Fotografia: Rob Hardy
Montaggio: Paul Knight
Musica: Alex Heffes
Produzione: Sixth Sense Productions, Origin Pictures, BBC Films, Blue Sky Films, First Grader Productions
Distribuzione: A-Film Distribution, Goldcrest Films International
2012 | 32° Festival Africano di Verona, Italia
* Film di apertura