Herschel Goldberg and Amanda Kopp on LIYANA

Herschel Goldberg wants you to see Liyana.

“The core message is something that everybody needs to see,” Goldberg says. “Or feel. It’s more about the feeling, not just the seeing.” 

Set in Swaziland—officially known as the Kingdom of Eswatini, a landlocked nation in southern Africa—Liyana uses the traumas and hopes of five real-life Swati children to weave a fable about a girl named Liyana who embarks on a dangerous journey to save her twin brothers. Directed by husband-and-wife team Aaron and Amanda Kopp, Liyana balances grim reality with a lush fable and allows these children a chance to express themselves using what Amanda Kopp calls “collective storytelling.”

“Which was challenging, of course, to get all of their different ideas to sort of morph into one story arc,” Kopp explains. “But the teacher we worked with for the storytelling workshop, Gcina Mhlophe [a South African author and activist], she’s just an amazing woman and storyteller. And I think she did a really great job in the workshops of providing structure and freedom, and I think that helped the kid’s creativity.”

It allowed the kids to reveal painful truths while maintaining a comfortable distance.

“We need these kids to get their story out there,” Kopp says. “They are working on a fictional story, so their personal tragedies, if you will, are more veiled and kept kind of mysterious…We just wanted to be really respectful to them in the process.”

“It’s been amazing, the responses from audiences,” Kopp says. “I think it’s really exciting that these kids from the middle of nowhere…can have such an impact on people and inspire people that they don’t know. 

“All kinds of people find something about the film that really speaks to them,” Kopp says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people wanted to host screenings and use it in their classrooms for years, really…Because the value the kids have to show the world isn’t really going to lessen as time goes on.”  

A version of the above interview first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 26, No. 38, “Storytelling for a cause.”