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Debbie Lynn Elias

Talk about the embodiment of creativity, imagination and inspiration! One need look no further than LIYANA for a “Must See” film, be it at Los Angeles Film Festival or elsewhere, as it finds its place in the cinematic ether. A documentary for the whole family, directors Aaron and Amanda Kopp take us to the Kingdom of Swaziland where we meet a group of orphaned children and a dedicated teacher.

As a means to not only teach the children, but help them come to terms with all the suffering they have experienced in their short lives and then move forward into the future, story advisor/author Gcina Mhlophe and animator Kenneth Shofela Coker work with a group of local children now residing in a children’s home in order to create the story of LIYANA.

With the philosophy that a fictional character allows the children to deal with their real life experiences, we see the story of LIYANA take shape as Mhlope asks the children questions that spark responses reflective of their own life experiences. Live action camera captures the children as they make suggestions for the character’s actions and plot points, e.g. Liyana’s father is sick in the story. The children pipe up with things like “He has HIV. It pops out, biting and biting and then gets inside. He gets weak and sick. He dies. They have sickness. They have AIDS.” It is sobering to hear these things come from such young minds. ...

Talk about the embodiment of creativity, imagination and inspiration! One need look no further than LIYANA for a “Must See” film, be it at Los Angeles Film Festival or elsewhere, as it finds its place in the cinematic ether. A documentary for the whole family, directors Aaron and Amanda Kopp take us to the Kingdom of Swaziland where we meet a group of orphaned children and a dedicated teacher.

As a means to not only teach the children, but help them come to terms with all the suffering they have experienced in their short lives and then move forward into the future, story advisor/author Gcina Mhlophe and animator Kenneth Shofela Coker work with a group of local children now residing in a children’s home in order to create the story of LIYANA.

With the philosophy that a fictional character allows the children to deal with their real life experiences, we see the story of LIYANA take shape as Mhlope asks the children questions that spark responses reflective of their own life experiences. Live action camera captures the children as they make suggestions for the character’s actions and plot points, e.g. Liyana’s father is sick in the story. The children pipe up with things like “He has HIV. It pops out, biting and biting and then gets inside. He gets weak and sick. He dies. They have sickness. They have AIDS.” It is sobering to hear these things come from such young minds. Or they add a plot line of a robbery where Liyana’s twin brothers are “stolen” and she must go on her adventure to find them. Three months earlier there had been a robbery at the children’s home where they all now live. Charming is that they have Liyana’s best friend be a cow; a cow that looks remarkably like one at the home.

An entertaining and engaging blend of live action and interviews complemented by animation of the story as being told by the children, not only shows us the natural beauty of Swaziland, but transports us into their wonderful imaginations, making the world seem richer and brighter. To see and hear their individual enthusiasm as they act out parts of the story, like a bull making noise when he sees bubbles from a crocodile in the water, or when their own dreams of seeing the ocean become LIYANA’s dreams, or when they introduce a beautiful colorful peacock into LIYANA’s world, is uplifting and heartwarming. A standout with LIYANA is the artwork and animation, all courtesy of Kenneth Shofela Coker. Breathtaking imagery, much of which Coker designed based on the children’s own drawings, we are immersed in and “feel” the world of LIYANA and her young creators.

Each one of the children we meet, Phumlani, Nomcebo, Sibusiso, Mkhuleko and Zweli, has a light within that burns so brightly. Thanks to Aaron and Amanda Kopp and LIYANA that light can now spread across the world.

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