BFI LFF is well on it is way and Alt Africa was lucky enough to catch up with the creative team behind the documentary film LIYANA, Amanda Kopp, Aaron Kopp and Shofela Coker.
Director/ Producer Amanda Kopp is an award-winning photographer and artist, producer and cinematographer known for the short film The Film. Art Director/Animator Shofela Coker is an illustrator and art director specializing in comics, digital sculpting, and look development. He comes from a family of artists originally from Lagos, Nigeria, which has greatly shaped his passion and artistic vision. He joined the Liyana project in 2014. Director/Producer Aaron Kopp is an award-winning filmmaker and national Emmy-nominated cinematographer who grew up in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Aaron shot and co- produced the Academy Award-winning documentary about acid attacks in Pakistan, Saving Face.
A Swazi girl embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue her young twin brothers. This animated African tale is born in the imaginations of five orphaned children in Swaziland who collaborate to tell a story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. Their fictional character’s journey is interwoven with poetic and observational documentary scenes to create a genre-defying celebration of collective storytelling. Executive Produced by Thandie Newton. www.liyanathemovie.com
How did the team come together?
Amanda: Once we had the fictional story that is when we started looking for Shofela, we connected with him online, having read an article about him, we were really impressed with his work and convinced him to join the project.
Was the original idea to do an animation?
Aaron: We discovered this along the way, we knew we wanted to make a film with these children, they were a group of kids who were very special and because of their back stories they have a very individual way of looking at the world, the way many of us don’t look at the world and because of that I believe they have something to teach us. We knew we wanted to make a film but we did not know what that film was. We did a lot of research into creative therapy, art therapy, traditional Swazi folklore and traditional stories from the region, gathering it piece by piece over time. Once we bought in the storyteller that galvanised the whole process and she could led the kids through the story telling process
When it came to the actual story did you have a storyline that the children followed/developed?
Amanda: In the storytelling workshop there was a hero’s journey story template, and certain story steps that the kids would use as a jumping of point to fill in with their own ideas. For example, at one point she says “Liyana needs to go on a journey” and the kids had recently experienced a robbery at the home where they lived and they infused that into the story and decided Liyana was going to experience the same thing and her journey story was that Liyana was going to try and rescue her twin brothers who are kidnapped.
Aaron: So, I would say creativity functions well with a little bit of structure, so the storyteller would present story steps, and the kids just made everything up, they did a brunch of poetry and drawings and all kinds of stuff that was built into the fabric of the story. It is all their ideas and they married the whole thing.
Was it the general idea that once they started developing the story it would be best told in animation?
Amanda: We wanted to tell the story visually and it was hard to find someone who would do that justice.
Aaron: Yes, it was like years of searching?
Shofela: They flew in to talk to me and told me about the project and showed me a rough cut and the history of the project and they had a Kickstarter attached to it. I was sold and before they left San Diego that weekend I sent them a sculpt of Liyana, the lead character, a rough sculpt.
Amanda: It blew us away!
Shofela: I was just that excited, it was just a unique and special idea. Since then I have not looked back, it’s been an amazing journey. I feel like it has helped not only to define, sort of myself but my understanding of how a creative partnership works. Not just with Aaron and Amanda but with the kids as well. It is very interesting having to translate someone else’s ideas and having to take a step back. You have to leave your ego behind to do their voice justice or just try to.
Would you normally ignite the story and do the animation?
Shofela: Historically in my career that has been the experience.
What was the project the children were a part?
Aaron: It an orphan care home in Swaziland, led by a Swazi board. It’s interesting in that it is not very institutional, it has small homes with a permanent mum and it is designed to be very Swazi like. It is a homestead basically with different homes on the farm, and agriculturally based.
What would you like people to take away when they watch Liyana?
Aaron: I think the heart of the film is about enjoying storytelling but from a very different voice that we might not be used to, as the storyteller is in a powerful position almost divine like. So, these kids who generally are not listened to or seen as people we need to respect and learn from. It was about turning those tables and I think it worked. I think the way the kids come across in their wisdom and creativity pays off. It is about going on a ride with these kids and letting them take you into their world.
Amanda: I just want people to be inspired?
Shofela: Yeah! There is a sense of poetry with the visuals and the kids and the film. I hope that people see that!
Liyana is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2017 which runs until 15th October 2017 in various venues around London. If you want to know more about the LIYANA education fund: http://www.liyanathemovie.com/educationfund
To book tickets for Liyana on Monday October 09, 2017 – 1:30pm, BFI Southbank, NFT3 here: http://bit.ly/2hDGufb
Image credit: LIYANA Intaba creative copyright