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Film: Liyana

Director: Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp

Animator: Shofela Coker

Cast: Gcina Mhlophe

English-Zimbabwean actress Thandie Newton (For Colored Girls), assumed the role of executive producer in the creation of what can only be described as a great work of art. The story of titular character Liyana came about through the imaginative minds of five orphaned children from Swaziland. Under the guidance of South Africa’s greatest storyteller, Mama Gcina Mhlophe, the children came together to share personal stories about their backgrounds. Directors Amanda and Aaron Kopp together with animator Shofela Coker effectively translated these stories into Liyana, a moving film-documentary hybrid.

The word ‘liyana’ when translated into English means ‘it is raining’. It is a name befitting this film’s protagonist; a courageous young Swazi girl born on a rainy day. Liyana is entrusted by her grandmother to fulfill a task of monumental proportions. With the help of an old white cow, this fearless young miss embarks on a difficult journey to rescue her younger twin brothers; who have been kidnapped by the village goons. What follows is a tender tale inspired by the opaque memories derived from the young orphans’ minds.

The narrative of Liyana is true to the age old saying ‘when it rains it pours’. This is not only demonstrated by the gushing obstacles overcome by young Liyana. But, when one considers that these obstacles are true reflections of the lives of the children who created this 76-minute film, one realizes the harshness of the world we live in.

It is evident that Mhlophe played a huge role in workshopping the story of the children, as Liyana reflects the gritty aspects of rural Swaziland. Coker’s artistic talents of creating simple yet striking graphics convey Liyana’s poignant story, making the animated characters almost come to life. Having nabbed the Best Documentary award at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, I would like to believe that Liyana is a formidable contender for the Best Feature Film award at 38th Durban International Film Festival. Of course I am just a reviwer with no authority over the awards process, so don't quote me on that. I will say that Liyana is definitely a film one would not want to miss come rain or sunshine... You can quote me on that.


This story emanates from the Student Media Lab, a collaborative student-reporting project spearheaded by the Centre for Communication, Media and Society in partnership with The Durban International Film Festival and the Centre for Creative Arts. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the student reviewer Thabisa Ngcobo.