‘It was written in the stars.’ This is how best I can describe meeting the creative minds behind Documentary Hybrid Liyana; Aaron and Amanda Kopp. Right on the eve of the 10th Talents Durban program I attended the opening night ceremony of the 38th Durban International Film Festival and the film of choice was South African female directed film ‘The Serpent’. At the after party where we had a memorable encounter the following days would bring even more amazing experiences including dinners, partying to the amazing Afro Beats sounds of Fela Kuti (watched the documentary, ‘Finding Fela’, amazing) at the trendy jazz bar ‘The Chairman’ and finally having a private screening of the film. I knew I had to extract some of their wisdom, creativity and understanding of their craft in this piece: 5 On 5; Five questions with Creative Minds. I could write more on how heavily Inspired I am by Aaron and Amanda, the A-Team. Enjoy!
The Reel Nthabiseng: Liyana has been eight years in the making. How does it feel to see the film being screened to audiences all over the world?
Amanda & Aaron: As you can imagine, it’s a relief to finish a task of this magnitude. I don’t think we realized just how ambitious the film was until we were in deep, which is probably for the better! The response from audiences has been thrilling! Especially with a film that takes creative risks and ventures into new territory you have no idea if people will ‘get it.’ So to hear the glowing feedback from critics and viewers we are on cloud nine, and it feels worth all of the hard work. One of the children in the film, Phumlani, exclaimed the other day, “LIYANA is really going somewhere!” To see the confidence rise in the kids about their storytelling project is extremely meaningful to us. We always wanted to make a film they could be proud of, so to see that come to fruition is satisfying.
TRN: An Animation Documentary hybrid, how was the idea conceived?
A & A: The concept evolved slowly over time. We always knew we wanted to make a film about these kids in particular. They had impressed us with their insight and creativity from a very young age. I was making painted portraits of the kids that started to dive into themes of imagination, and Aaron was researching creative therapies and Swazi folklore. It all coalesced into our approach of having the kids imagine a story that they would tell. As soon as we knew storytelling would be a part of it we contacted the iconic South African storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe, who graciously agreed to join the project and come lead a storytelling workshop for the kids.
TRN: Working with Gcina Mhlophe, Thandie Newton and Philip Miller – How was that experience?
A & A: Finding the right collaborators in film is everything! When you work with people who are so exceptionally talented in their field and you can just sit back and watch the magic happen. Gcina Mhlophe is not only a masterful storyteller, but she also inspired these kids to take ownership of their own story and proclaim it proudly. She kept them motivated and helped them examine their choices at every step of the way. Philip Miller is a brilliant composer. He travelled to Swaziland to record with a group of traditional musicians, and we discovered talented young Swazi vocalists for the score. The combination of traditional instruments, choral elements, and cello worked to tie together various threads of the film in interesting ways. We were baffled by his seemingly effortless compositions and creative methods. The end results were better than we could have hoped. Thandie Newton has been a dream to work with and very helpful in getting the film finished. She believed in the project from early on and her response to the rough cut was very encouraging coming from such a smart, talented activist such as herself.
TRN: After the Durban International Film Festival running what is next regarding the film?
A & A: We’re looking forward to a busy season of film festivals. We’ll be announcing more about which festivals we’ll be bringing LIYANA to soon. And then we’ll have an extensive outreach campaign in the US, Swaziland, and Southern Africa. We hope to develop educational materials for schools, and we’ll seek to get the film in front of as many people as possible through community screenings in rural communities, etc. We will also start a college fund for the kids in the film. Our hope is that audience members can work together to help ensure that these talented kids have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
TRN: Congratulations on your latest win at the 38th Durban International Film Festival for Artistic Bravery Award, You must feel proud.
A & A: Thank you! We’re very proud of the whole team! We do believe that artistry and bravery came into play at each stage of the creation of the film, from the children’s courage displayed in the telling of their stories, to the development of a new animation style featuring highly detailed elements mixed with limited movement. Young filmmakers have told us that LIYANA changed their ideas about the possibilities for what a documentary could be. This is very affirming and encouraging when we look back at the chances we took in our approach to this film.
TRN: You spoke of Liyana going beyond a film. Will it be adapted to a book or an album? The music is just amazing.
A & A: Yes! We’re working on a beautiful comic book of the Liyana story that will accompany the film. We’ll use the animation artwork from the film and it will be possible to translate into various languages to ensure as many kids as possible can be inspired by the story. We hope to have a soundtrack as well, we’re in the early stages of planning for that. Thank you!