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Burbank sisters set sights on Oscar for 'First Grader'

Two young Burbank sisters, actresses campaign for film to win acclaim.

January 13, 2012|By Katherine Tulich
  • Young actresses Olivia Shea, 8, left, and her sister, Allie, 11, pose for the camera at the Burbank home on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. The Sheas helped with the start of the Academy Awards campaign for a small indie film called the 'First Grader.' (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)
Young actresses Olivia Shea, 8, left, and her sister,…

When you are competing with the likes of Spielberg, Scorsese, Clooney and Brad Pitt for an Oscar, it can be tough to get any attention, but the producers of the film “The First Grader” had a surprising secret weapon for their film: two young actresses from Burbank.

When 11-year-old Allie and her 8-year-old sister Olivia saw the film, they were touched by its inspirational theme. They approached their father Darin Shea and asked him to help with the support of their newly formed Shea Family Foundation.

“Those girls are hard to say no to,” laughs Darin Shea. “I was so impressed with how passionate they were about this film. They really wanted to make sure the message got out there.”

Based on the true-life story of an 84-year-old Kenyan man who struggles to earn his right to a free education, even if that means sitting in an elementary class with 6-year-olds, “The First Grader” was a hit with audiences at several film festivals around the world but floundered at the box office when it was released in the U.S. last May, grossing only $332,000.

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It was a long shot for awards consideration and the films distributor, National Geographic Entertainment, refused to mount a pricey campaign. “They felt it wouldn’t be worth it,” says one of the film’s producers, Richard Harding. “We really thought all hope was lost until Allie and Olivia saw our film.”

“I must admit I was not really aware of how important the whole awards season can be,” says Darin Shea, an information technology entrepreneur who moved his family from Arkansas to Burbank two years ago to support his children’s acting ambitions. “All we knew is that we wanted to help this film and this is the best way we could do that.”

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