I'm quite pleased with our film choice at TIFF this year. We got some of our first choices like the First Grader and the Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and I was less of a risk-taker this year to choose films basing only on its name. We saw 2 over the weekend and they were both based in Africa, though very different in theme and nature. The first one we saw was "State of Violence" by Khalo Matabane. It was a film about Bobedi, a CEO of a mining company, whose wife was murdered and as he seek revenge he came to face with his darkest secret, his family, and his demon. I feel like the film, while has some nice moments, never went deep enough to explore the demon in Bobedi, his past, and his relationship with his family. It almost felt like a great idea wasted. I am actually quite surprised as the director has directed several films about South African issues previously.
The second film we saw was the First Grader by Justin Chadwick. It was based on the true story of Maruge, a 84 year old Mau Mau (Kenya) veteran who showed up at the door of teacher Jane's school when the government announced free primary education. I think the film has got many of Slumdog Millionaire's quality, i.e. sad past and resilient hero, although the plot was more simple and the performance delivered was much more profound and genuine. In the Q & A after the screening, we learned that the crew of about 7 people went to this village school in the middle of nowhere, and shot this film with actual students that go to that school. Most of the actors and actresses were sourced locally in Kenya. The kids regard the director and the actress Naomie Harris, who plays the teacher, as teacher Justin and teacher Jane, and the crew (the director most specifically) stayed at the village to get to know the people and the place, and their understanding of this part of their history addressed in the film (which was very minimal. This film, while not perfect (some say the plot is kind of bland), has strived in its profound portrayal of Maruge's emotion through his soulful eyes and smiles and his friendship with teacher Jane through the stunning performance by Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris. It was definitely one of the best films I've ever seen at TIFF.