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Young South Africans proud of roles in AIDS film

Two young South African actresses said Tuesday they're proud to have been part of a film about the harsh realities of AIDS in their country even though the movie missed the final cut for an Academy Award nomination.

"Life, above all" had been among nine possible best foreign language film nominees, but was not one of the final five chosen.

The film based on Canadian writer Allan Stratton's 2004 novel "Chanda's Secrets," is set in impoverished, rural South Africa, a world of prejudice and superstition surrounding AIDS. Twelve-year-old Chanda shows maturity and courage beyond her years when the disease strikes her family.

Khomotso Manyaka, 15, who played the lead character, said she hopes young viewers will leave her movie with the message that "they don't have to keep secrets."

"HIV is not something that you can hide," said her co-star, 14-year-old Keaoboka Makanyane. "You have to talk about it so that you can get help."

Both teens come from the same small town in rural northeastern South Africa and are in their first year as boarders at South Africa's equivalent of New York's "Fame" school. They earned full scholarships to the prestigious National School of the Arts in Johannesburg on the strength of their performances in the film.

The two teens, who had never before been out of the country, also have had a chance to see the world since the movie's release, going to film festivals in Europe and the Middle East.

On Tuesday, they gathered with fellow students to watch an Internet feed of the Academy Award nominations announced from the United States.

The movie's director, Oliver Schmitz, praised both young, first-time actresses.

"I'm proud to have gotten this far," Schmitz said in a telephone interview from his base in Germany. "I'm proud of the movie."

Years of South African government inaction have been reversed recently, but the legacy of official denial and the disease's continuing fierce stigma have helped leave the country with more people living with HIV than anywhere else in the world.

Some 5.7 million of 50 million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and South Africa has more than 1 million children orphaned by AIDS, many left to take responsibility for younger siblings.

Another South African movie with an AIDS theme, director Darrell James Roodt's "Yesterday," was a best foreign film nominee in 2005.