Storytelling for a cause

Special ‘Liyana’ screening to fund Akpe Cultural Center

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A still from 'Liyana'
Courtesy of Abramorama

Herschel Goldberg wants you to see Liyana.

“The core message is something that everybody needs to see,” Goldberg says. “Or feel. It’s more about the feeling, not just the seeing.”

And that’s why Goldberg and good friends Maputo Mensah and Merilee Eggleston have put together a special screening of the genre-blending film at the Boulder Public Library’s main branch on May 11. Proceeds from the screening will go to support the Akpe Cultural Center in Ghana. 

Set in Swaziland — officially known as the Kingdom of Eswatini, a landlocked nation in southern Africa — Liyana uses the traumas and hopes of five real-life Swati children to weave a fable about a girl named Liyana who embarks on a dangerous journey to save her twin brothers. Directed by husband-and-wife team Aaron and Amanda Kopp, Liyana balances grim reality with a lush fable, and allows these children a chance to express themselves using what Amanda Kopp calls “collective storytelling.”

“Which was challenging, of course, to get all of their different ideas to sort of morph into one story arc,” Kopp explains. “But the teacher we worked with for the storytelling workshop, Gcina Mhlophe [a South African author and activist], she’s just an amazing woman and storyteller. And I think she did a really great job in the workshops of providing structure and freedom and I think that helped the kid’s creativity.”

It allowed the kids to reveal painful truths while maintaining a comfortable distance.

“We need these kids to get their story out there,” Kopp says. “They are working on a fictional story, so their personal tragedies, if you will, are more veiled and kept kind of mysterious. … We just wanted to be really respectful to them in the process.”

That respect might begin to explain Liyana’s longevity. While most movies exit the public consciousness as soon as they depart theaters — typically a few weeks at most — Liyana has made its way along the Front Range from the Denver Film Festival in 2017 to the Boulder International Film Festival in 2018 to regular runs at the Dairy Arts Center and CU Boulder’s International Film Series. 

“It’s been amazing, the responses from audiences,” Kopp says. “I think it’s really exciting that these kids from the middle of nowhere … can have such an impact on people and inspire people that they don’t know. 

“All kinds of people find something about the film that really speaks to them,” Kopp says.

It spoke to Goldberg.

“As soon as it ended,” he says, “I said, ‘There’s got to be a way to connect the story of this beautiful movie with my friend’s, Maputo’s, efforts to build a cultural center in his hometown in Ghana. It just seemed too obvious of a connection.”

Maputo Mensah, CU-Boulder’s director of the West African Highlife Ensemble — and one of Goldberg’s old soccer buddies — is currently working on building a center for the arts in Ghana. When finished, the Akpe Cultural Center will be a place to promote and preserve traditional African dance, drumming, song and storytelling. 

As Goldberg explains, up until a few years ago, there were many cultural centers of this nature, but then politics changed and money dried up. 

“And he saw that unlike himself — who had the opportunity to get educated and learn about African dance, music, history and arts at one of those centers — that kids now don’t have that opportunity,” Goldberg says. “It’s his personal mission and dream to rebuild.”

According to the Akpe Cultural Center website (akpeculturalcenter.com), over $77,000 has been raised for the center, but another $70,000 is currently needed. Goldberg’s screening of Liyana will hopefully help the cause, both through ticket sales proceeds and donations from the audience. 

May 11’s screening at the Boulder Public Library is sponsored by the Boulder County Arts Alliance and will feature drumming by Mensah prior to the feature and a filmmaker Q&A following. And should you feel as inspired as Goldberg upon exiting the theater, there will be ample opportunities to get involved. Maybe even hosting your own screening of Liyana.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people wanted to host screenings and use it in their classrooms for years, really,” Kopp says. “Because the value the kids have to show the world isn’t really going to lessen as time goes on.”  

ON THE BILL: ‘Liyana.’ 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11, Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, facebook.com/events/578349386010383/