Filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp


Filmmakers Amanda Kopp and Aaron Kopp

Aaron, what inspired you and compelled you to make Liyana?

I grew up in Swaziland and after I finished high school there I moved to the US.

I met Amanda and together we traveled back to Swaziland in 2003. On that first trip we met the children who are in our film. In the years since then, we have traveled back and forth many times.

We met one of our storytelling stars, Zweli, when he was five.

Even at that early age he was in love with words and had a beautiful way of expressing himself.

We were enchanted by Zweli and the other children and have gotten to know them well in our many visits to Swaziland over the years.

The children’s difficult experiences before they came to the orphan home have given them a very special way of looking at the world. They are complicated, creative, joyful kids, but they do still carry some heavy burdens from those traumatic early life experiences.

We wanted to make a film that allowed the audience to fall in love with the kids in the same way we did.

We did a lot of research about Swazi folktales and about various art therapies. This eventually lead us to the idea of using a fictional character, created by the children, as a way for them to express themselves without being made to feel like they had to talk about things that they didn’t want to talk about.

Storyteller Gcina Mhlophe

We immediately contacted famous South African storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe.

She was the perfect person to help the kids tell their story. We knew that if we put the children in the driver’s seat that it would be exciting journey.

What do you see as the educational value of Liyana?

Animation Artist Shofela Coker

First and foremost we see Liyana as being a piece of art and we hope that it will be appreciated as such.

That said, we do see many ways that the film could be used in an educational setting and we are super excited about all these possibilities.

Here are a few ideas:

– Teachers may want to use LIYANA to help students understand techniques of narrative storytelling.

– Teachers could use the film to explore global cultures through a social justice lens.

– Liyana’s story provides an opportunity lead a discussion on the concepts of empathy and resilience.

– Students could use the film to inspire students to study how film is used as a communication tool, they may also then be interested in learning about career possibilities in media making.

What do you see as the humanitarian value of Liyana?

We wish for those who see the film to feel inspired and motivated.

We hope to challenge misconceptions about Africa, especially concerning vulnerable children.

We hope African audiences will feel seen, heard, and empowered.

We would love for the film to spread a bit of hope and empathy at a time when it is so desperately needed.

About the Filmmakers

Amanda Kopp is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer.

She was producer and cinematographer for the short film Likhaya, which won People’s Choice and Best Documentary awards at international festivals.

She also filmed for the Sundance 2015 premiered film, The Hunting Ground. Kopp’s photographic work has been published in the UK, US, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, and Italy.

Her feature directorial debut, Liyana, was awarded funding from Shine Global and Fork Films, before winning Best Documentary at the LA Film Festival, and the jury award for Artistic Bravery at the Durban International Film Festival.

Aaron Kopp is an award-winning filmmaker and Emmy-nominated cinematographer who was raised in the Kingdom of Swaziland.

Kopp shot and co-produced the Oscar-winning documentary about acid attacks in Pakistan, Saving Face.

He was also cinematographer for the Sundance 2015 premiered film, The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses.

Kopp was awarded grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Doha Film Institute for his feature directorial debut, Liyana, which takes place in the country of his childhood and won the grand jury award for Best Documentary at the LA Film Festival.

(Below is the link for the Liyana movie)