On the 6th December 2011, Starfish Greathearts Foundation screened “Life Above All” for World Aids Day at the South African High Commission, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DP, with myself and Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo (FAB’s editor) going to show our full support.
Starfish Greathearts Foundation is an international development charity, aiming to bring life, hope and opportunity to children in southern Africa who have been orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. We believe that everyone can make a very real difference to the lives of these children.
This year, the choice of film allowed viewers to gain an understanding of the themes surrounding aids that exist in South Africa today, with Starfish working different in communities that are affected by many of these issues explored in the film.
‘Life Above All’ is an emotional and universal drama about a young girl (stunningly performed by first-time-actress Khomotso Manyaka) who fights the fear and shame that have poisoned her community. The film captures the enduring strength of loyalty and courage powered by the heart. Directed by South African filmmaker Oliver Schmitz (“Mapantsula”, “Paris, jet´aime”), it is based on the international award-winning and best-selling novel “Chanda’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton.
In a small South Africa town on the outskirts of Johannesburg, Lillian (Lerato Mvelase), the mother of four, sits in a room moaning in grief as she rocks the lifeless body of her youngest, baby Sarah. After Sarah dies of the disease that nobody ever names, Lillian gets steadily sicker while 12 years old Chanda, a smart and resourceful girl, (Khomotso Manyaka), takes on more responsibility for her family.
Lillian leaves to die of the disease that she can no longer hide, hoping to protect her children from the stigma of AIDS. Sensing that the gossip stems from prejudice and superstition, Chanda leaves home and school in search of her mother and the truth.
Some of those secrets are way too obvious (guess what killed the nosy neighbour’s son?), and some of the acting is a bit stiff, but the main problem with Life, Above All is that most of the characters and relationships are thinner than Chanda’s AIDS-ravaged stepfather.
Chanda’s mother (a gorgeous, Madonna-like Lerato Mvelase) is so idealized she might as well wear a corona instead of a headscarf, and Chanda’s best friend, Esther, functions more as a cautionary tale than an actual person (orphaned by AIDS, as Chanda is about to be, Esther is shunned by the entire town, forced into abject poverty and truck-stop whoring).
The end result plays like a series of predetermined scenes rather than an organic progression of events. The only character to change is the well-meaning busybody Mrs. Tafa, whose final-act transformation offers hope that AIDS stigma will not be everlasting.
It’s all very well-meaning and well-rewarded (the book won several awards and the film was South Africa’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar), but there’s just not much life in Life, Above All.
Checkout the trailer below!