By addressing strife in Africa in a roundabout way, “Liyana” breaks free of the heaviness that can weigh down an issue-based documentary. The movie, directed by Aaron and Amanda Kopp, follows a group of orphans at a home in Swaziland as they take part in a storytelling workshop.
With the workshop leader, the writer and performer Gcina Mhlophe, focusing their instincts, the children devise a folk tale about a girl named Liyana who sets off, with a friendly bull, to rescue her brothers from thieves who have abducted and plan to sell them.
In addition to crocodiles, hyenas and a monster, many of the real-life hardships the children have witnessed or experienced — hunger, the prospect of trafficking, parental abuse and deaths from AIDS — work their way into the tale, presented in strikingly rendered animation from Shofela Coker, a Nigerian artist based in San Diego. “Liyana” crosscuts between the children telling the story and the otherwise-wordless animated sequences, which are more like illustrations in motion — brightly hued and textured, with the camera sometimes the only source of movement.
“Liyana” includes warm scenes of Mhlophe’s class brainstorming, drawing and painting. The movie also shows the children going about their lives apart from the workshop. (We sit with one boy as he awaits the results of an H.I.V. test.) There are ways in which “Liyana” might seem to put too rosy a spin on its subject matter, but it shows the optimism and self-awareness that can come from creativity.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 17 minutes.