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Liyana, a hero’s journey – Review

Transformative Experience Through Storytelling

Liyana movie poster (linked)
Liyana Movie Poster

The transformative power of storytelling shines through in this unique and beautiful documentary. This is more than an animated movie, it’s a meta-story: the story of stories.

Gcina Mhlophe, the well-known storyteller, leads a group of orphans in creating a story about a girl. They call her Liyana, after the rain.

As a kind of therapeutic facilitator, Gcina leads the children through a storytelling workshop, showing them how to use their imagination to tell a story, drawn from their own experiences of life. She guides them through a path of discovery: with discussion and activities – helping the group reach decisions that include good ideas from everyone who participates. They send their fictional hero on a journey – I don’t want to give away too much, I only want to inspire you to watch this beautiful film on the biggest screen you can find.

The Animation Artist, Shofel Koker has done a brilliant job of translating the story into stunningly complex but accessible illustrations that draw the eye in, direct the viewers’ attention and add a level of richness to each plot point. His subtle use of colour, texture and pattern showed beautifully on the cinema screen.

Director/Producers Aaron and Amanda Kopp have struck a fine balance between humour and drama, building the story arc in a manner that plays out in a seemingly effortless way. We are drawn in, given moments of rest and respite – I felt I was living the story through the character, Liyana.

The story was enriched by seeing moments from the lives of the storytellers – the children and the adults who care for them. We get a sense of the tragedy that has touched the lives of these children, without dwelling on it.

The beautiful story, the moments of joy and deepest tragedy are underscored beautifully by composer Phillip Miller’s music. The brilliant soundscape didn’t once intrude on my attention – another display of unbelievable skill and perfect execution.

Davis Coombe, the editor, has managed to bring together all the elements, to match them in a way that flows, from storytelling moments to stolen glimpses of the children’s journey to the river and beautifully into scenes of daily life and Gcina’s mentorship of the group telling this fantastic and original tale.

Check out the Filmmakers on the Liyana Movie Page.

Or find Liyana on IMDb

Liyana Trailer

I was left with tremendous respect for the work that Gcina Mhlophe does, helping these children put themselves into a context that leads them away from the hopelessness they might feel and showing us all that the stories we tell have real power in shaping who we become.

I believe that we all start out wanting to be the hero of our own story, but some of us are so frustrated by constant failure or unbelievable attacks that we give in to the darker side of our nature. The side that is selfish and nasty, the side that plays the victim. That is why we have such respect for people who can stand against the storm and say: here I am, and I will do better.

My eyes are welling up at the thought of everything I saw, and everything in my own life that is reflected in this movie.

The children in the documentary are not magical or even that different to me, or to you and your own children. We all tell ourselves stories all the time, and our stories shape our lives. How do we take control of the narrative?

Watch Liyana and concentrate on the one golden phrase you find – it just might change your life.