This unusual film is part animated story and part documentary, recounting the process by which the story was created. It emerged out of a storytelling workshop held at an orphanage in Swaziland led by South African activist Gcina Mhlophe. The country has the world's highest HIV infection rate, and its orphanages are filled with AIDS orphans. Five of them living at Likhaya Lemphilo Lensha are encouraged to talk about their experiences. To do so they create a story, which the filmmakers recreate through the vibrant animation of Shofela Coker. They name their heroine Liyana.
Liyana's home life mirrors what the five storytellers have gone through. First her philandering father and then her mother die of AIDS. She tries to take care of her younger twin brothers, but they are abducted by thieves who intend to sell them. Encouraged by her grandmother, who tells her to hold onto hope, Liyana sets out to rescue the boys. Her only companion is the family bull. They cross difficult terrain, including a desert where she runs out of food and water and almost dies. When she locates the twins and other stolen children, she still has to overcome a monster.
The very creative storytellers describe Iyana's travails, noting somberly at one point that "sometimes the story of people's family can end sad" and "It's more difficult to live life than write a story." Mhlophe explains that working with a fictional character allows the orphans a way to delve into areas of their own histories that they have not been able to forget.
The film ends with the storytellers' delight in what they have accomplished. "When people remember Liyana," one of them says, "I want them to remember us making our own words." What they really have done is encourage everyone to become a storyteller.
Visit LiyanaTheMovie.com to find a screening in your area or to arrange one.