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The Film

Alastair Cole’s feature debut is a beautiful, inspiring and bittersweet story about language and childhood in Africa.

Steward, Elizabeth and M’barak are three first time school pupils in rural Zambia who struggle to make sense of an educational system where the language they speak at home is different from the language used in the classroom.

Moments of perplexed incomprehension, both comedic and tragic ensue, as the children slowly come to terms with the fact that their tongue is no longer their own.

At a time when nearly 40% of the world’s population lack access to education in their own language, Colours of the Alphabet offers an intimate and moving insight into a global phenomenon from the unique perspective of three innocent children.

Director Statement

by Alastair Cole

“It has been an incredible adventure making my first feature length documentary, especially living for 12 months in Zambia and getting to know the wonderful children in the film.

Their struggle to learn was both surprisingly universal and absurdly anachronistic. Not learning in their mother-tongue represents a huge obstacle for the vast majority of them, as it does for millions of others around the world.

I hope our film will help people understand the importance of mother-tongue education and remind people of the shared ambitions of parents across the world for their children.”

Producer Statement

by Nick Higgins

“Colours of the Alphabet takes audiences on a journey to an Africa rarely seen on the big or small screen, where the Zambian parents have exactly the same ambitions as British parents, but where their children innocently struggle to make sense of an education system that forces them to learn through English.

It’s estimated this is an issue that affects 2.3 billion people across the world – and while there are laughs along the way, Alastair’s film brilliantly explores the real issues this causes children in learning about the world around them.

We think the film will highlight a serious global problem, and we relish the prospect of using it to bring about a real, tangible change to the lives of the children who feature in it.”


Colours of the Alphabet was developed with support from Creative Scotland’s lottery fund, the INTERDOC and the European Documentary Network's Twelve for the Future development programmes, and Berlinale Talents.

Filmed over 12 months in the village of Lwimba near Lusaka in Zambia, it was produced by Lansdowne Productions and Tongue Tied Films and was supported by the following organisations:

The University of the West of Scotland
UWS Creative Media Academy
Edinburgh Napier University
The University of Edinburgh

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