Harriet Manamela as Mrs. Tafa and Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda star in South African film

Harriet Manamela as Mrs. Tafa and Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda star in South African film

South African film is a coming-of-age story

The Vernon Film Society presents Life, Above All at the Towne Cinema Monday, Nov. 28

After another successful Fall Film Festival, the Vernon Film society has two more movies in its present season.

On Monday, the society will be showing Life, Above All, and on Dec. 12 is The Way, starring Martin Sheen.

Life, Above All is a moving film filmed entirely in South Africa in a township near Johannesburg.

It is directed by Oliver Schmitz and was written by Dennis Foon, based on the novel Chanda’s Secrets by Canadian Allan Stratton. Some may recall Foon for his many years at Vancouver’s Green Thumb Theatre.

The film opens with the main character, Chanda (an outstanding portrayal by first time actor Khomotso Manyaka), visiting an undertaker to pick a coffin for her baby sister. Her mother is immobilized by grief and illness and her father by drink.

Suspicion is spreading in the neighbourhood that the real cause of the family’s problems is AIDS.

A family linked to the disease by rumour or gossip is ostracized, and subsequently Chanda’s mother Lillian (Leroto Mvelase) leaves to visit distant relatives to get away from these rumours.

AIDS is not mentioned until well into the film, which reflects the reality of life in much of Africa, where the disease is ignored by many, both in the local population and those in authority, leading to the spread of the disease and death to many.

Chanda helps care for her siblings, attends school and tries to keep up appearances. She has a close friendship with a schoolmate named Esther (Keabaka Makanyane).

Roger Ebert says “The performances by the two young girls are remarkable. They have seen and internalized unspeakable experiences, their faces are young, but their eyes are wise.”

The neighbour, Mrs. Tafa (Harriet Manamela),  has a central role, coming to the defence of Chanda and her family, surprising even herself by how she rises to the occasion.

This is an award-winning movie about deep human emotions, evoked with sympathy and love, which has universal themes –– a coming-of-age story about a remarkable girl who is forced to grow up much too early.

The film is in Sotho and French, with English subtitles.

Life, Above All shows at the Towne Cinema Monday at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $7, available at the theatre and the Bean Scene one week prior to showing.