FREE SPEECH and CINEMA

The Lost Pen Pays Poetic Homage to Free Speech in Sydney Film Festival

Beraat Gokkus’ short film about exiled journalists dominated Sydney’s prestigious international film festival featuring mobile movies.

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A scene from The Lost Pen features the chief actor Karam, a poet from Syria.

A film starring actual journalists and shot by a journalist/director at a place that hosts exiled journalists from all around the world in Paris dominated the mobile moviemaking festival in Sydney last weekend as the industry gears itself for an impending shift to more mobile ways of filmmaking in the foreseeable future.

SmartFone FlickFest (SF3), Australia’s International Smartphone Film Festival, launched its premiere online last week due to the Covid-19 pandemic’s physical restraints. Found by two film nerds, the festival is featuring 70 films from across the world while its award section contains 16 finalists that competed for the best film, best director, and other cherished spots that attest to the talents of enthusiastic directors.

, a French film directed by Beraat Gokkus, won three awards, including best film, best director, and best actor. Shot in a single plan for the span of the entire 14 plus minutes, the film is a testament to the growing appeal of mobile moviemaking. Initially starved of funds and deprived of many palatable options, shooting the film with a smartphone was more a dictate of necessity than a personal choice for the director in the first place.

In an interview with Mobile Movimaking magazine last week, Gokkus set out his reason in more candid terms. Yet, austere conditions of indie film-making were not the only factor that swayed his decision. The allure of the smartphone, the power of self-reliance, and his experience prior to amplified his confidence in the way how and why he shot the film. Before this latest drama, he won another award for a short doc that featured refugees in Paris — his adopted new home, and the chief starring actor in his visual works.

What landed the film in the final spot was not just the modalities of how it was made. The theme the film wrestles with has strong repercussions beyond the screen. , as the title aptly alludes, is a film about a vanished past, a lost status, the state of displacement, the challenges of exile, and the haunting power of the memories as a Syrian poet struggles to find his footing in Paris.

In a broad sense, it is a tribute to free speech and journalism. In his award statement, Gokkus dedicated his film to journalists who face political persecution, imprisonment, exile, and other forms of pressure either at home or abroad. The power of the message conveyed by the film becomes more relevant and pointed when we delve into the personal biography of the director who also works as a journalist for respected European outlets and who had to flee Turkey after political currents upended the free conduct of journalism over the past several years in an accelerating pace since 2016.

Politics, given the director’s background from university and his professional experience, looms large over the themes he tackles. This, he told me in an exclusive interview after the premiere of the festival, became somehow indispensable, something that opened new vistas for his creativity process as well as challenges.

Gokkus, also a poet whose poems were published in English and Turkish on various international platforms, ventures new ways to deal with social tragedies and real-life problems from the angle of an artist and with the touch of a poet.

A Poet and a Lost Pen

When Karam loses a pen, so dear to him, he plunges into a frenzied search to retrieve it, no matter what. The city is Paris, the place is a residence (La Maison des Journalistes) that houses journalists displaced by war, internal strife, political persecution, and many more reasons in their respective home countries. And Karam, a poet from war-torn Syria, seems to have every reason to find the pen before his memory fails him while he is on the verge of a new aesthetic revelation to put the pieces together for a poem. Amid back and forth inspirational sparkling, he incoherently keeps mumbling the lines before forgetting the poem, which he is yet to convert to a paper.

When he checks his neighbors for the whereabouts of the pen after a noisy late-night party, the bewildered fellows offer him their pen. One even quips, “Why is he so insistent on this particular pen, but not any other pen?” Without disclosing the entire dramatic structure and the plot, it suffices to say that this focus on the pen as the central theme reveals the powerful message the film resonates with.

The answer by Karam to his friend serves as a revelatory introduction to his troubled past. He tells that the pen is a gift from his deceased mother and his feeble mind can only operate with that pen at hand whenever some emerging lines of a poem or a thing of creative sort dawn on his imagination.

The pen, as the director (a journalist himself) reveals, is a strong metaphor. It is indeed more than a metaphor. It is the entire essence of this short drama featuring real journalists with individual traumas of each one.

The lost pen represents the loss of their social status and the inability to conduct their profession freely. They did not only lose their homes but also their respected jobs as journalists. In multiple references with a single theme/object and word, the director Gokkus insinuates that the lost pen points to the lack of freedom of expression.

At the end of the film, the poet finds his pen.

We surmise from the film that “if we are unable to find the opportunity of free expression, we can no longer write.” Consequently, the retrieving of the pen signifies the recovery of free speech and the ability to practice journalism without an impediment, something that became untenable for journalists in their home countries.

The director Gokkus is worth watching after his strong debut on the international platform. The FlickFest continues to feature films ranging from environmental issues to the trial of human beings in an ever-fluctuating modern life. The online festival is set to open to movie fans all around the world until October 25.

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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