Gcina Mhlophe. Picture: VATHISWA RUSELO
Gcina Mhlophe. Picture: VATHISWA RUSELO

Gcina Mhlophe is a storyteller like few others — and now a story about storytelling featuring the iconic South African is set to hit local screens.

Produced and directed by Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp‚ Liyana follows five young orphans living in Swaziland as they create a mythological tale. The animation-documentary hybrid is drawn from the experiences and dreams of the children‚ aged 10-13 years. Liyana is due to be screened at the 38th Durban International Film Festival in July.

And it goes into the festival with a huge buzz‚ having won the documentary award at the prestigious LA Film Festival last week.

"Liyana is a lyrical film that gives our young storytellers the stage‚" said Aaron Kopp in a statement. "We hope the audience will be enchanted by the children’s imaginations in the same way that we are."

The Emmy-nominated cinematographer‚ who grew up in Swaziland‚ believes the film will play a role in deconstructing stereotypes and "challenging the prevalent‚ simplistic narrative of African orphans".

In a workshop led by Mhlophe‚ the five children developed the character Liyana as a Swazi girl who undertakes a dangerous quest to rescue her young twin brothers. Durban-based Mhlophe, who was unable to get to the screening in Los Angeles, said she was looking forward to watching the movie at the upcoming film festival.

"It was exciting to get involved with the children and to realise they happily made the leading character a girl. It shows that you have to teach children racism and sexism — they don’t have it in their genes."

Mhlophe‚ an actor‚ storyteller‚ poet‚ playwright‚ director and author‚ has written children’s books that have been published globally and translated into German‚ French‚ Italian‚ Swahili‚ and Japanese. She has received many international awards including the BBC Africa Service for Radio Drama.

Mhlophe is looking forward to welcoming the children to Durban for the screening of Liyana.

"These children are orphans who came from situations of great poverty and difficulty. They now live in a home on a farm with chickens and gardens and their own responsibilities. It was a wonderful project to be involved in.

"The movie also shows that children are never too young to think and imagine and create. They drove the story I was just an assistant driver."

British actress Thandi Newton‚ (Mission Impossible 2‚ Crash) is executive producer‚ together with Susan MacLaury and Albie Hecht‚ a co-founder of Shine Global.

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