‘LIYANA’ receives high praise at Citizen Jane Film Festival

The documentary redefines bravery with the powers of feminism.


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Storytelling is an art form. Some seek it out, practicing and refining their skills to perfection. Others, the lucky few, are born with the gift. While LIYANA was directed and produced by Aaron and Amanda Kopp, its true creators were the children of a small orphanage in Swaziland. For this reason, the film was truly incredible to watch.

LIYANA documents Swazi children’s work by crafting a story about Liyana, a young girl who must embark on a treacherous journey to save her kidnapped twin brothers.

The way this documentary was filmed makes it especially unique. Being a mix of both normal documentary footage and animation, I felt invested in the characters in a different way than I would most other documentaries. By using animation, it was easier for me to identify with difficult, painful topics.

Along with the formatting, LIYANA was faithful to its Swazi roots, giving the film a fundamental truth that many other documentaries on African culture lack. For example, the patterns shown were distinctly Swazi, and the music was both vibrant and honest to the characters’ culture.

More importantly than the film’s style, the children were what made me most enjoy LIYANA. I loved seeing the hero take the form of a young girl, redefining bravery with the powers of feminism and showing that African culture recognizes the need for strong female leaders.

Of course, not everything in the movie was amazing. Throughout the film, the audience sees footage of the children going on a journey. They swim and trek across grand hills, determined to reach some end goal. However, while I could tell they were on an important journey of their own, the film never tells the audience what their journey is. When the credits rolled and no answer was given, I felt dissatisfied.

Despite unanswered questions, I greatly enjoyed LIYANA. It was truly a one-of-a-kind film, both in style and story. Walking out of the theater, I couldn’t help but hope the children grow up to be storytellers and leaders, bravely narrating their way through any struggles they face in their own lives.

After the film ended, the directors informed the audience that a graphic novel version of LIYANA is currently in the production process. Excited to hear their stories again, I look forward to reading this version of Liyana’s journey, even though I’m not the type of person who typically reads graphic novels.

Edited by Brooke Collier | bcollier@themaneater.com

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