Liyana is the most beautiful thing at #DIFF2017

Durban - Visitors to the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) were among the first to get a look at a major new docu-animation, executive produced by none other than US actress Thandie Newton, which explores HIV and growing up as an orphan. Featuring the spectacular animation of Lagos-born Shofela Coker, it’s the sort of beautiful that doesn’t come around too often.

The film, which won the Documentary Award at the LA Film Festival last week, features the writing of local storyteller Gcina Mhlophe. Mhlophe organised workshops with orphaned children in Swaziland, who narrate the tale of Liyana, a brave heroine of their own creation realised in this unique format of a documentary animated film.

“The movie shows that children are never too young to think and imagine and create. They drove the story, I was just an assistant driver,” Mhlophe says.

The San Diego-based Coker found a new spirit animating the film, he says.

“It’s a surreal feeling to reach this point on what has been the most creatively fulfilling project I’ve worked on. It was equal parts challenging and rewarding, and worthwhile in ways that I haven’t processed yet. The team and I have high hopes for the story’s outreach, but personally, right now I feel a deep sense of relief and pride for doing something so worthwhile with my career.”

Coker uses dreamy colours and characters reminiscent of early Studio Ghibli animations but with a Disney type of glamour. Think indie Lion King, interspersed with moving documentary footage – a recipe for African magic.

Check Liyana out at Diff this week. For times and dates head to