Few weeks before the Football World Championship, everybody is looking to South Africa as a host of the most popular event. The participation of the South-African cinema in Cannes could quite not be seen despite a real effort and presence of a film in an important competition.
In Un Certain Regard, a parallel section but a part of the official selection in Cannes film festival, Olivier Schmitz (Cap Town, 1960) presented his new feature called Life, above all. He was the third African filmmaker in Cannes this year with the Chadian Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and the Algerian Rachid Bouchareb.
Schmitz is well known as an engaged filmmaker. His previous feature, Highjack Story (2000) was a statement against violence and poverty in the suburbs of Johannesburg.
Already with the first participation in Cannes with Mapantsula (1988) Olivier Schmitz showed that he wants to use cinema as platform of denunciation of all south-African society pains. Mapantsula was then a scream against the injustice and the absurdity of the racist regime of Apartheid.
South-African filmmaker was proud to be in the biggest international film show case. "It is the fourth time I am in selection in Cannes, he said to the press, but you do not get blasé about it because it's really the cream of what happens every year in the film world".
Nowhere else, a film crew would like to be in fact. Greg Buckle, the Co-producer pointed the importance of being in such a film event and meets a special audience "So far it's been a great exposure, watching the reaction of people coming out of the cinema."
The new film is quite a touching story about prejudices, sleekness and poverty. The protagonist, Chanda, is only 12 years old. However she is force to challenge the whole society in her small dusty village near Johannesburg.
The young girl has to face a very bad time. Her newly-born baby sister dies. Her father accuses the mother to be the cause of this lost. He dies from alcoholism. Soon later, the mother is seek and accused by the village to be a source of devil. She has to leave and go to die alone far from any human life.
The little girl decides to fight. She doesn't believe in superstition and looks for her mother, bring her back home and challenge the neighbours. She convinced people that, some things could be worse than physical sleekness and "Nothing is more contagious than lies".
The film is a tribute to children and women who are most of the time in the front lines, as it is very often the case. From that point of view Life, Above all is very important for the 1.5 million AIDS orphans. It perhaps as vital as the aggressive anti-AIDS campaign launched by President Jacob Zuma on April 25.
As in Mapantsula, as in Highjack Stories, Olivier Schmitz uses again cinema to highlight a message which meaning is simply "NO". No to racism, No to violence, No lies, No to poverty, No to injustice,... Life, above all is a No to all this and call for tolerance and rationalism, in one word for LIFE.
The film got very ambiguous reactions among the press in Cannes. On the one hand it is seen as reproducing clichés about AIDS, poverty and prejudices. On the other hand, some people appreciate the storytelling and the way Olivier Schmitz could manage with young actors.
The young star, Kgmotoso Manyake (12 years old), walked on the red carpet of the most prestigious film festival with the director and the producer. Who knows, she will have a bright future as an African star.
Not very far from there, in a Hotel of the little city of Cannes, the South-African Foundation of Film and Video invited press and film professionals to a presentation of the most recent production.
Before the world championship of soccer, cinema invites regards already to look to Africa and to its far Southern corner.
By Hassouna Mansouri
First published in www.africareview.kn