Liyana – Los Angeles Film Festival 2017


Adam reviews the Animation/Documentary hybrid Liyana from directors Aaron and Amanda Kopp.  The film played the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival.

The power and need for storytelling is at the very core of Liyana, the new documentary from Aaron and Amanda Kopp.  The premise is relatively simple: five children Zweli, Sibusiso, Phumlani, Mkhuleko and Nomcebo work with Gcina Mhlophe (a South African novelist/storyteller) to create a fable of sorts about a young girl named Liyana.  With the work of artist Shofela Coker, these children create the story of Liyana, a fictional representation of their struggles and triumphs.  Liyana defies your expectations of a documentary at every turn of its 77 minute run time.  It is genuinely surprising, shocking and heart-warmingly profound.

The documentary beautifully illustrates the hardships the children face along with those of Liyana in their story.  There is not an easy road for Liyana nor these children.  Their lives are shockingly stark at moments, much like the story they are creating.  It’s through their interviews that we get to know each of these children’s plights and how similar their stories are.  They are all orphans (like Liyana) and most find themselves faced with unimaginable challenges that many adults stateside would have troubles dealing with.  One particularly harrowing moment concerns one of the children going to the clinic to be tested for HIV.  These hardships and stark realities give Liyana’s story more resonance, making her challenges all the more real and all the more rewarding when she is able to face them down.  It’s through Liyana’s story these children find strength and understanding as we do.

Liyana is not designed to make you feel guilty nor is it made to invoke sympathies, but rather it shows us the resilience of the human soul.  Even the children in this story know that sometimes, oftentimes, there is no hope in the world but you must struggle on.  It’s in these moments Liyana is at its most powerful.  Children laying bare the realities of their situation and pushing beyond their circumstances, not because they are strong but because they have no choice. Liyana is a uniquely powerful documentary.

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