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Documentary film, 'Liyana' puts a twist on the art of storytelling

Documentary film, 'Liyana' puts a twist on the art of storytelling


A story within a story is how filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp describe their new documentary film, ‘Liyana.’

Over the course of 3 weeks in 2010, the couple filmed at a Swaziland orphanage and captured the children working with South African storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe to create a story of courage and perseverance. The fictional character of Liyana is filled with the real-life turmoil, hopes and dreams of five orphaned Swaziland, Africa.

“We had each kid sort of having a different version of each scene, so we had to kind of find the narrative through-line there. And they would sort of riff off one another and the story would evolve and – in front of us, which is pretty cool. It was exciting to have the story just kind of be washing over us as we were filming,” said Aaron.

“And scary, because at any moment it could have just kind of, you know…” added Amanda.

“But we were confident that, you know, no matter what happened like these kids, just knowing who they are and their vitality and all that they’ve been through, we were confident that, you know, we didn’t know where it was going to end up, but we’re pretty sure it was going to be cool,” Aaron added.

The husband and wife team decided to make the film after meeting children from orphanage in 2003, five years later they settled on creating a documentary with animation elements weaving the story back and forth from fiction to nonfiction.

“There have been a lot of films in Africa made by people who look like us. And they while, not always accurate, I think they’ve been incomplete certainly and they tend to focus on a specific kind of narratives in Africa and we just – having grown up there, we knew that that wasn’t the whole truth. And we – these kids just exemplify that complexity in a way that I think is pretty compelling, you know,” said Aaron.

Actress Thandie Newton, whose mother is Zimbabwean, and regularly performs philanthropy work in Africa, serves as executive producer of the movie.

“I know that from the work that I’ve done in Africa. The way to truly help is to give resources, but allow people on the ground to make their own decisions about how they want to tell their stories, have their stories be transported around the world.”

The film has won numerous awards at various festivals around the world and will be released in select U.S. theaters on October 10th.

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