National Geographic picks up ‘First Grader’

Company picks up U.S. rights to Toronto winner

National Geographic Entertainment is going back to school, snagging U.S. rights to Toronto Film Festival entry “The First Grader.”

Festgoers chose the pic as runner-up for the Toronto People’s Choice award. The acquisition caps a particularly busy festival, during which more than a dozen pics found U.S. distribution.

Directed by Justin Chadwick from a script by Ann Peacock, the pic is based on the true story of an 84-year-old Kenyan man’s battle to get an education.

“First Grader,” which garnered favorable critical response at the Telluride and Toronto fests, stars Oliver Musila Litondo and Naomie Harris.

Produced by Sixth Sense/Origin Pictures Prods., “First Grader” is a presentation of BBC Films and the U.K. Film Council in association with Videovision Entertainment, Lip Sync and ARTE France. Producers are David M. Thompson, Sam Feuer and Richard Harding. Joe Oppenheimer, Anant Singh, Norman Merry and Helena Spring exec produced.

“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 the personal story with great warmth and humor,” National Geographic Entertainment prexy Daniel Battsek said.

Battsek has made a handful of strategic festival buys since arriving at National Geographic from Miramax, including docu “Restrepo” and Mt. Everest adventure “The Wildest Dream,” as well as the upcoming “Desert Flower,” “Flying Monsters 3D” and “Blue Man Group: Mind Blast.”

Origin Pictures’ Thompson called National Geographic a perfect fit for the film.

Distant Horizon’s Singh repped domestic rights to “First Grader” (Distant Horizon co-financed the pic). Goldcrest Intl.’s Penny Wolf is handling international sales.