: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: In Distribution


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. He was also cinematographer for the Sundance Audience Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated film, The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. He has worked across Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, and the South Pacific on films for HBO, Netflix Originals, National Geographic, Discovery, UK Channel4, CBS, CNN, and PBS. Aaron was awarded grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Doha Film Institute for his feature directorial debut, LIYANA, which has won more than 25 awards at international festivals including the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the LA Film Festival and the Knight Documentary Achievement Award.

Amanda Kopp - co-director, producer

Amanda Kopp is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and artist. She was producer and cinematographer for the short film, Likhaya, which won a Golden Palm, People’s Choice, and Best Documentary awards at international festivals. She also filmed for the Sundance 2015 premiered film, The Hunting Ground. Amanda’s photographic work has been published in the UK, US, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, and Italy. For her feature directorial debut, LIYANA, she was awarded funding from Shine Global and Fork Films and was the recipient of the 2018 Emerging Female Filmmaker Award from the Oxford Film Festival. LIYANA’s festival and award highlights include the Grand Prize Award at both the Heartland Film Festival and the New York International Children’s Film Festival, as well as screening at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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 award winning editor, producer, and writer. His two most recent films, Casting JonBenet and Chasing Coral both premiered at Sundance in 2017, where Chasing Coral won the audience award for best documentary. Netflix has acquired both films. Davis produced and edited Saving Face, which won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 2012. He also edited Chasing Ice, which premiered at Sundance in 2012 and was shortlisted for an Academy award. Davis co-wrote and edited Keep On Keepin’ On (shortlisted for an Academy Award) and A Lego Brickumentary which both premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. In 2013 he won two national Emmys for Editing and Best Documentary at the News and Documentary Emmys.

Daniel Junge - Producer

Daniel Junge is an Oscar-winning (and 2-time nominated) and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker. His first feature-length film, Chiefs, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and broadcast nationally on PBS. 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 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. Daniel’s film The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 2010. His film, Saving Face, won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. Daniel’s two most recent films – Being Evel and A Lego Brickumentary premiered respectively at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals and opened in theaters in 2015.

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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The Gotham Film & Media Institute - Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2021
Grand Jury Award Best Documentary - LA Film Festival
MacArthur Foundation documentary grant
Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund Grant
Best Documentary Award - Festival Sayulita
Knight Documentary Achievement Award - Miami Film Festival
Grand Prize Best Feature - New York International Children's Film Festival
Fork Films documentary grant
Emerging Female Filmmaker Award - Oxford Film Festival
Jury Award Special Mention for Creative Storytelling - Oxford Film Festival
Jury Prize Best Feature - Providence Children's Film Festival
Director's Choice Award Best Documentary - Sedona International Film Festival
Jury Award Special Mention - Zagreb Dox
Best Long Documentary - Freedom Films - Luxor African Film Festival
Special Jury Award - Montclair Film Festival
People's Choice for Best Documentary - Vancouver South African Film Festival
Nominated for Indiana Film Journalists Best Documentary Award
Grand Prize Documentary Feature - Heartland Film Festival
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature - Denver Film Festival
Grand Jury Award, Spirit of Freedom - Bahamas International Film Festival
True Grit Award - Denver Film Festival
Jury Award for Overall Best of Show - BendFilm Festival
Audience Award - BendFilm Festival
Jury Award for Artistic Bravery - Durban International Film Festival
Finalist - San Francisco Film Society Documentary Grant 2015
Doha Film Institute grant
National Geographic All Roads Film Project grant
IFP Spotlight on Documentaries 2015


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