Shine Global, a non-profit media company, is pleased to announce its involvement in the highly anticipated animated/documentary film, Liyana, directed by first time feature filmmakers Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp. Shine Global co-founders Susan MacLaury and longtime television executive Albie Hecht join as executive producers, bringing a wealth of expertise to an incredible team supporting the film.
This is the third major announcement for Shine Global in recent weeks. In late June, distributor Cinema Guild announced it acquired Shine Global’s award-winning documentary feature The Wrong Light and will release the film in theaters this fall. Previously, Sundance hit documentary The Eagle Huntress, produced in association with Shine Global with executive producer Susan MacLaury, was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and will have a major release later this year.
Set in a home for orphans in Swaziland, Liyana focuses on 5 children aged 10 to 13 as they participate in a workshop led by acclaimed storyteller Gcina Mhlophe. The children collage together an original character, a young girl named Liyana. The world that they imagine is brought to life in the film in a unique style of animation. Drawing from painful memories, the children describe a violent attack at Liyana’s home. In the aftermath of this terrible night, Liyana must embark on a dangerous quest into the wilderness. Profound insight is revealed as the children shape their heroine’s mythic journey, and parallels are drawn between Liyana’s fate, and that of the young storytellers.
Liyana aims to encourage young people to make their voices heard, and to unite their communities as they look for world-changing solutions within themselves.
Co-Director Aaron Kopp grew up in Swaziland and had been looking for a way to do a film with the children at this orphan home as he and Amanda have traveled back and forth between the United States and Swaziland during the last 13 years.
When they began filming, the filmmakers reached out to prominent South African activist and storyteller Gcina Mhlophe who immediately joined the project.
This is the first feature for Aaron and Amanda as directors though they both have significant experience working as co-producers and cinematographers on such films as the Oscar®-winning documentary Saving Face and the recent Sundance film The Hunting Ground.
Other team members include Oscar® winner Daniel Junge as a producer and editor Davis Coombe who has edited Emmy®- and Oscar®-winning documentaries, including Saving Face and Chasing Ice. British/Zimbabwean actress Thandie Newton (Crash, Mission Impossible II, The Slap) has also joined the project as Executive Producer.
“As filmmakers, we’ve been fans of Shine Global’s films for years. Meeting Susan MacLaury and Alexandra Blaney it was immediately clear to us that our hearts and goals aligned,” said Amanda Kopp. “We knew it would be a perfect fit, and we are honored to work with Shine.”
Ultimately the filmmakers’ goal is to use the power of storytelling to dispel misconceptions about vulnerable African populations from the outside, as well as improve the confidence in their own potential to help others and to make the world a better place. This shift in perspective will also apply to key players in the NGO world as they examine their own practices and help to increase respect and reduce stigma about the people they serve.
“We immediately fell in love with this project,” says Shine’s Executive Director Susan MacLaury. “The focus on the transformational power of storytelling for these children is a clear fit with our mission. Combine that with the beautiful cinematography and outstanding animation from rising talent Shofela Coker and we couldn’t wait to be involved.”
Liyana is currently in post-production.
Aaron Kopp – Co-director, Producer, Cinematographer
Aaron Kopp is an award-winning filmmaker and Emmy-nominated cinematographer who grew up in Swaziland. Kopp shot and co-produced the Oscar-winning documentary about acid attacks in Pakistan, Saving Face. He was also cinematographer for the Sundance 2015 premiered film, The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. For his short film, Likhaya, he was awarded People’s Choice and Best Documentary awards at international festivals. He has worked on films around the world for HBO, National Geographic, Discovery, UK Channel 4, CBS, CNN, and PBS. Kopp was awarded grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Doha Film Institute for his upcoming feature directorial debut, Liyana.
Amanda Kopp – Co-director, Producer, Camera
Amanda Kopp is an award-winning photographer and artist. She was producer and cinematographer for the short film Likhaya, which won a Golden Palm, People’s Choice, and Best Documentary awards at international festivals. She also filmed for the Sundance 2015 premiered film, The Hunting Ground. Kopp’s photographic work has been published in the UK, US, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, and Italy. Her photographs won the Grand Prize in the Photo District News Top Knots photography competition. She has traveled to Swaziland regularly over the past 13 years and is now directing her first feature length documentary, Liyana, with funds from the MacArthur Foundation and the Doha Film Institute.
About Shine Global
Shine Global, a non-profit media company, gives voice to children by telling stories of their resilience to raise awareness, promote action, and inspire change. The organization’s films have won more than 50 major awards including an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Short Subject for Inocente and an Academy Award®-nomination for War/Dance. Shine Global is attached the 2016 Sundance hit The Eagle Huntress while its most recent production, The Wrong Light, recently premiered at the Cleveland Film Festival.
Thanks to 238 backers, we raised 101% of our $50,000 Kickstarter goal! We had enough donations to activate a portion of a challenge grant to be pledged towards the campaign and additional donations outside of Kickstarter.
We are awed by how many people demonstrated support for Selling Our Daughters. Many of the donors are unknown to us and others have supported Shine’s films again and again over the years. We are so lucky to have them all.
Our team is hard at work finishing the film and we hope to have it done in time for a Spring 2016 festival premiere.
By Susan MacLaury
Just a month ago, we posted pictures of Victor, Zulema and Perla, the three American teen migrant farm workers we had profiled in our 2011 film, The Harvest (La Cosecha). We were reintroduced at Shine Global’s 10th anniversary party and over the weekend we had a chance to learn in depth how they were since making this film, the effects it had had on them, and where they currently were in their lives.
It was great hearing how Zulema was a college freshman, Perla was planning to go to graduate school, and Victor was achieving his dream of becoming a car mechanic. Still, we knew that all had family members, some of them younger siblings, a few of the hundreds of thousands still working in the fields with minimal protections.
That point was brought home to me today when a friend sent me this clip about a current Human Rights Watch campaign to educate the public about the poisonous effects of picking tobacco on underage workers. Memories surfaced about our research into this subject, interviews with prospective film subjects, production of The Harvest (La Cosecha), and our screenings on Capitol Hill in 2011 to try to convince lawmakers to vote in the CARE Act (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment) sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. Both she and then Secretary of the US Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, fought hard, but in vain, for legislative reform for young farm workers.
Human Rights Watch has commissioned multiple investigative studies on the wellbeing of young farmworkers over the last 15 years with some successes. In 2014, some of the major US tobacco growers banned children under 16 from working in the tobacco fields, but excluded older teens from their policies, teens who are still vulnerable to the dangerous effects of tobacco picking. Shine Global applauds them for their continued concern. We believe that the powerful imagery they employ as documentarians will make a difference in the lives of these children and urge you to watch and act.
We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help finish Shine’s latest film Selling Our Daughters. Check out the video and pledge to support!
Selling Our Daughters explores the dark side of child advocacy through the story of an “activist” who misrepresents Thai girls as sex trafficking victims for his own gain.
The film unfolds as a mystery, revealed to viewers through the eyes of the filmmakers as they themselves discover it. In 2013 we went to northern Thailand to film a story about girls who had been sold into the sex trade by their parents. Our guide was activist Mickey Choothesa. What we discovered instead is that Mickey has been deceiving both the public and those he claims to be helping. Since founding his non-profit organization, COSA, in 2005, Mickey has marketed it globally as a sanctuary for trafficked and at-risk girls while describing it to the girls it houses and their families only as a unique educational opportunity.
Watch the Kickstarter video with Directors Josie Swantek Heitz and Dave Adams to learn more about the film and why we need your help to finish it — then make a pledge!
Why we are making this film
Sensational and dramatic storytelling gets ratings, attracts an audience, and helps secure funding but it has a real world, negative impact on those we are (mis)representing. Power dynamics between storytellers, promoters, audiences, and subjects raise difficult ethical questions we face everyday as filmmakers. So when we became entangled in the deception Mickey was perpetrating, we knew we had to keep our promise to the girls and their families to share their story with the world.
Why on Kickstarter?
Thanks to the generosity of many individual donors and foundations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fledgling Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, and Greystone Co., we have been able to complete the shooting and editing of the film. We are seeking $50,000 to help us finish it so we can premiere at festivals and bring the film to audiences around the world in 2016. We need to hire a composer to do the music, a sound designer to do the sound mix, and do color correction, HD mastering, and output the final film onto formats that we can play for audiences. We are so close to finishing this film but we need you to help bring this story to the world!