: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


A talented group of orphaned children in Swaziland dive into their imaginations to create an original African tale about a girl on a dangerous quest.


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.


LIYANA is a lyrical film that gives our young storytellers the stage. We hope the audience will be enchanted by the children's imaginations in the same way that we are. We believe this film will play a role in deconstructing stereotypes and challenging the prevalent, simplistic narrative of African orphans. LIYANA pays tribute to my childhood in the Kingdom of Swaziland. And at its heart, the film is a meditation on the transformative power of storytelling – an ode to the creative spirit.


Aaron Kopp - co-director, producer, cinematographer

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, directed by Daniel Junge. Aaron also often works with Kirby Dick, having filmed for his Academy Award–nominated documentary THE INVISIBLE WAR, which won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and more recently, he was cinematographer for THE HUNTING GROUND, a film about sexual assault on college campuses, which premiered at Sundance in 2015. Based in Denver, Aaron has worked on films throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, the US, and the South Pacific. For LIKHAYA, his short documentary about a group of women and children in Swaziland, he was awarded a Golden Palm, People’s Choice, and Best Documentary awards at international festivals. He has worked as cinematographer, co-producer, and assistant editor on films for HBO, National Geographic, Discovery, UK Channel 4, CBS 48hrs, and PBS. Aaron was recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant for his upcoming feature directorial debut, LIYANA, and he was named one of The Independent’s “Ten Filmmakers to Watch” in 2012.

Amanda Kopp - co-director, producer

Amanda Kopp is an award-winning photographer and artist. She was producer and videographer for the short film LIKHAYA, which was awarded a Golden Palm by the Mexico International Film Festival, as well as People’s Choice and Best Documentary awards at other international festivals. She also filmed for Kirby Dick's Sundance premiered film, THE HUNTING GROUND, about sexual assault on college campuses. Amanda has traveled to Swaziland many times over the past 11 years, and much of her art and photography work is focused on the children there. Now based in Denver, her work has been published in the UK, US, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, and Italy. Her photographs recently won the Grand Prize in the Photo District News Top Knots photography competition, and she was named one of the Top 20 Destination Wedding Photographers in the World by BrideBox. She is co-directing an upcoming feature length documentary, LIYANA, with funds from a MacArthur Foundation grant.

Shofela Coker - Lead Artist, Character Design, Illustration

 Shofela Coker is an artist and animator specializing in 3D character modeling, illustration, and look development. Since graduating from the Memphis College of Art in 2009, Shof has been working as a character artist at Sony Online Entertainment in San Diego, CA. He also worked as a character artist in film for Benthos Studios, and in games for Activision, Tony Hawk, Planetside, and the EverQuest game series. Shof comes from a family of artists originally from Lagos, Nigeria, which has greatly shaped his passion and artistic vision. He and his siblings formed the Coker CoOp, a collective that creates comic books, sculptures, writing, and digital art. Shof is committed to telling distinctly African stories with a unique style.

Gcina Mhlophe - Story Advisor

Gcina Mhlophe was born and raised in South Africa. She has been writing and performing on stage and screen for more than 25 years. She has written many children's books as well as poetry, short stories and plays. Her writings are published all over the world and translated into German, French, Italian, Swahili and Japanese. Her work has received awards from BBC Africa Service for Radio Drama, The Fringe First Award in the Edinburgh Festival, the Josef Jefferson Award in Chicago, and OBBIE in New York. Gcina Mhlophe has received four Honorary Doctorates from the London Open University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Pretoria, and Fort Hare University. 

Davis Coombe - Editor

Davis Coombe is an Emmy®-winning producer and editor. He is a founder and owner of Milkhaus, a production company and post facility in Denver that specializes in broadcast and theatrical content. In 2011 Davis produced and edited SAVING FACE, which won the Academy Award® for Best Short Documentary and was broadcast on HBO and internationally. In 2013 he won two national Emmy® awards for Editing and Best Documentary at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards. He also edited CHASING ICE, which premiered at Sundance in 2012 and was shortlisted for an Academy Award®, and produced BAY OF ALL SAINTS, which won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at SXSW in 2012. Davis co-wrote and edited both KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON and BEYOND THE BRICK: A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY which both premiered at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival, and is editing BEING EVEL (a bio-doc about Evel Knievel) for A&E and The History Channel.

Daniel Junge - Producer

Daniel Junge is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker (and two-time nominee). His first feature-length film, CHIEFS, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and broadcast nationally on PBS. His subsequent feature, IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and aired on over 50 broadcasters worldwide including PBS and the BBC. THEY KILLED SISTER DOROTHY, his third feature film, won the Audience and Grand Jury Prizes at the South by Southwest Film Festival before broadcasting on HBO and earning a 2010 Emmy nomination for Best Investigative Journalism. Junge’s film THE LAST CAMPAIGN OF GOVERNOR BOOTH GARDNER was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 2010. His most recent film, SAVING FACE, won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. Currently Junge has a feature film which will be released in theaters by the Weinstein Company – BEYOND THE BRICK: A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY – and a film premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, BEING EVEL. Junge lives in Colorado with his wife and daughters and large dog. 

Thandie Newton - Executive Producer

 Thandie Newton is an English-Zimbabwean actress. She has starred in many films such as, Beloved, The Pursuit of Happyness, Mission: Impossible II, RocknRolla, 2012, Crash - for which she received a number of awards, including a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was most recently seen in NBC's The Slap and is currently shooting Westworld for HBO due to premiere early 2016. Thandie is actively involved in the V-Day foundation, and has been a Board Member since 2012. In 2011 she attended the opening of the City of Joy in Bukavu, DRC. It houses and supports women survivors of sexual violence and provides them with opportunities to develop their leadership skills through innovative programming. Thandie also spoke at the Ted Global Conference in 2011 on the topic of “Embracing Otherness.”

Sakheni Dlamini - Producer

 Sakheni Dlamini is a Swazi professional who holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Marketing from Simmons College in Boston. She has worked in both corporate and rural development settings, managing projects, facilitating discussions and implementing programs across Swaziland. Dlamini specializes in economic strengthening and has a passion for empowering women and students in their communities. LIYANA is her first film production.


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IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2017
Grand Jury Award Best Documentary - LA Film Festival
Jury Award for Artistic Bravery - Durban International Film Festival
MacArthur Foundation documentary grant
Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund Grant
Fork Films documentary grant
Produced in Association with Shine Global
Doha Film Institute grant
Finalist - San Francisco Film Society Documentary Grant 2015
National Geographic All Roads Film Project grant
IFP Spotlight on Documentaries 2015


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