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Perth Festival is delighted to announce the winner of the inaugural BHP Billiton Audience Award is The First Grader.

Affectionately known as the “Golden Deckchair,” the audience award saw more than 8000 people join in the Festival conversation by voting for their favourite film from the 26 Lotterywest Festival Films which screened in the 20-week season. Votes were taken in person at the venue or online afterwards.

Perth Festival Film Program Manager Madeline Bates said: “This award is an important opportunity for filmmakers and audiences to connect through a shared love of cinema, and I'm delighted that the first year of the award has been such a success.”
“After winning multiple audience awards from around the world, we're delighted that The First Grader has caught the imagination of Perth audiences as well.”

The First Grader director Justin Chadwick said winning the award meant a lot to him.
“We made the film with a very small crew in a remote village with children that had never seen a TV or a film with a crew mainly made up of Kenyans,” he said.
“To have the film acknowledged by audiences at your film festival gives me great hope for films from all over the world at a time when the multiplexes are so saturated with such a narrow range of films.
“Film festivals are so important for film makers to tell their stories. Thank you so much for acknowledging us. I hope I am able to return with my next film!”

The First Grader is an inspiring and heart-warming film which had won seven audience awards at festivals around the world before it took out the 2012 Golden Deckchair. It is the true story of 84-year-old liberation fighter Maruge who, when the Kenyan Government offers free universal education, arrives at a primary school eager to learn.

Chadwick will receive the award by post as he is currently in South Africa filming his next feature Long Walk to Freedom, the official Mandela movie which he said came about because of The First Grader.


A nationally respected leader in the Australian arts sector – Emeritus Professor Margaret Seares – has been appointed Chair of The University of Western Australia’s Perth International Arts Festival.

The announcement by UWA Chancellor Dr Michael Chaney and Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson follows the retirement of Mr Michael Smith after eight years as Festival Chair.

Dr Chaney said the University’s governing body, Senate, acknowledged Emeritus Professor Seares’ long and distinguished career in the arts.

“Emeritus Professor Seares is extremely well placed to lead the Board to ensure that this fantastic community festival – founded by UWA more than half a century ago – remains one of the most significant annual events on Australian and international arts calendars,” Dr Chaney said.

“In her previous role at UWA as Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Seares was unstinting in her advocacy and support for the Festival, serving on its Board since 2009,” he said.

Emeritus Professor Seares has held positions as Chair of the Australia Council for four years and Chief Executive of the Western Australian Department for the Arts (now the Department of Culture and the Arts).  She has been a member of a wide range of boards and councils in the government, not-for-profit and arts sectors.  In 2003, Professor Seares was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of her work for the arts and education.

Michael Smith joined the Festival Board in June 2002 and was appointed Chair in August 2004.  In that time, the Festival’s reach has increased from audiences of 120,000 to more than 200,000 annually.

Paying tribute to Mr Smith, Professor Johnson said these impressive results revealed a deepening connection between the Western Australian community and the Perth International Arts Festival.

“Michael Smith has been a passionate advocate for the transformative power of the arts and the positive contribution they make to Western Australia’s sense of identity and the liveability of our community,” Professor Johnson said.