Chicago Critics Film Festival 2018: Liyana
By Andrea Thompson
Calling a movie inspirational has become something of an insult, but there's no other way to describe “Liyana.” It's also unique in more ways that one. It's a documentary that doubles as an animated film, as a group of orphaned children in Swaziland tell the story of a girl named Liyana, who undertakes a perilous journey to rescue her younger brothers. The film brilliantly intersposes Liyana's journey with the lives of the children who tell her story, allowing them to control the narrative, into which they pour their pain, their fears, and their hopeful dreams of a better future. It allows the darker elements of the tale, which includes rape, AIDS, and child slavery, to remain just that-elements. They do not dominate or overwhelm the movie, and the lives of the children it depicts, both real and fictional, emerge as something far greater than victims or news stories. Co-director Aaron Kopp, who was also the cinematographer for “The Hunting Ground,” grew up in Swaziland, and his love for the country shines through. “Liyana” is a tribute not only to that land, but to the power of storytelling itself to overcome trauma.