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'Liyana' Movie Review

Liyana Movie Review

Photo courtesy of Intaba Creative

Movie review from the 2018 Atlanta Film Festival

The resiliency of children is remarkable. This film, part documentary, part animated narrative film, takes place at the Likhaya Lemphilo Lensha home for orphans in Swaziland, located in southern Africa. A storyteller is brought in order to help the children; most look to be ten or eleven, create a folktale about a girl named Liyana, on a quest to find and rescue her two younger siblings from the men who stole them. The story the children tell is beautifully animated, and the kids do the narration to the story, often acting out the parts on the screen.

Directors Aaron and Amanda Kopp bring us this moving and inspirational documentary with a twist. The film covers a lot of subjects that children movies don't touch on: AIDS, rape, murder, abduction, alcoholism, starvation and abandonment, all things these orphans have experienced. That's the reality of their world where there are 200,000 orphans in a tiny country of just 1.3 million people. Twenty-five percent of the population has AIDS, and the average life expectancy is 50 years. The orphans live in a world where almost half of all deaths of five years old and younger are due to AIDS. Liyana, the movie, looks at this world like the orphans do, you just have to accept it and try to move on.

Photo courtesy of Intaba Creative

World-famous South African author and storyteller Gina Mhlophe is brought in to help guide the orphans with their storytelling. She pokes and prods the orphans to help them decide what the next step in the story is. The central figure is Liyana, a young girl of 12 or so, whose parents died of AIDS. The three kids are on their own until, one night, robbers break in, tie up Liyana, and take her two younger siblings. Once freed, Liyana is told by her grandmother to take the family bull and go after the robbers. Liyana goes on a massive quest, surviving attacks by jackets, almost dies of thirst in the desert, crosses deep canyons and climbs mountains, even fight with a monster, all to rescue the siblings. It's not all avoiding the clutches of an alligator. Liyana also takes time to enjoy the world; she sleeps next to the bull, she admires sunrises and is willing to take time to stop and smell the flowers.

Photo courtesy of Intaba Creative

We get to know five or six core storytellers, who light up when telling the tale, sometimes adding sound effects or acting out, to their delight that they just can't contain themselves. Cracking up at their jokes or getting truly serious as they describe their families that are now gone, some of which they barely remember if at all. Not only do we get to see these kids tell the story, but we also see their daily life; playing out in the front yard, helping prepare meals, playing soccer. It's not all fun stuff either. On young boy gets tested for the AIDS virus putting the audience on pins and needles as the results are revealed.

Photo courtesy of Intaba Creative

The animation is breathtaking, as Nigerian-born visual artist Shofela Coker, uses animated stills to tell the story of Liyana. The gorgeous landscape that Liyana travels is filled with lush colors, and the animated portions of the film make the lives of the orphans seem much warmer and happier. The animation in the foreground doesn't move, but objects in the background, like stars or birds, do move. Liyana has some of the most beautiful animated scenes I have ever seen.

The orphans of Likhaya Lemphlio Lensha have created a tale that both children and adults can enjoy and be inspired by. Liyana is a magical movie that is deeply moving but also gives you hope for the orphans and for the world. If Liyana can overcome her obstacles, surely the orphans of Swaziland can survive in this harsh, harsh world. The film shows you the power of healing that imagination and storytelling can hold.    My Take: I Would Pay to See It Again

My movie rating system from Best to Worst:  1). I Would Pay to See it Again  2). Full Price  3). Bargain Matinee  4). Cable  5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

Liyana Website

Atlanta Film Festival Website

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