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Based on Allan Stratton’s internationally acclaimed novel, “Chanda’s Secrets,” the film, “Life Above All,” is a story of courage, love, and the intolerance housed by one modern South African community.
The film centers on the vivacious and intelligent twelve-year-old Chanda (played by Khomotso Manyaka) who fights for her family under troubling circumstances. She is forced into a confusing adult’s world when her sister passes away and her mother, Lillian, (played by Lerato Mvelase) is plagued with AIDS, which to Chanda is just a mysterious sickness. However, the community is convinced that the illness is a divine punishment. Rumors start to circulate referring to her mother’s condition as “the disease,” and Chanda quickly becomes angry and confused. She refuses to believe that her mother, her only support system, is the cause of her own illness.
To make matters worse, she receives no help from her alcoholic stepfather who is usually missing, or Ester (played by Keaobaka Makanyane), her closest friend who has recently become a prostitute at the local truck stop. Chanda is soon given a world of responsibilities when she is left to single-handedly run her household, including her younger sister and brother, as well as take care of her ailing mother. Ultimately, a village elder, Mrs. Tafa (played by Harriet Lebabe, who also appeared in Hotel Rwanda), decides that it is best for the family and the town if her mother is sent away.
Devastated by the news, Chanda ignores everyone’s ignorant beliefs and sets out to find her mother and bring her home. Unfortunately, she must now leave her younger siblings and her schooling behind. Despite the immeasurable amount of pressure that is forced onto this young child, Chanda remains hopeful and brave. Along the way, she is tested and learns to overcome her past, and the superstitious beliefs of her neighbors in order to discover the truth about her community and more importantly, her mother.
This coming of age story is both tear jerking and heart warming at the same time. It addresses such issues as the ignorance of AIDS because of pride and denial, and even child prostitution. Manyaka keeps the storyline from becoming too dark with her bubbly attitude. “Life Above All” is socially informative and illuminates many key aspects to the AIDS epidemic in modern day South Africa, including denial that often occurs within small communities.
An official selection at the 2010 Cannes film festival, “Life Above All” is directed by Oliver Schmitz, a South African native of German descent. His past projects include “Mapantsula,” and “Paris, je t’aime,” It received a 10-minute standing ovation and left critics in tears. The film was released in the UK on May 27 and will be released in the US on July 5.