Unearthing The Pen

Unearthing The Pen


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It is said that many years ago, when white men came and took away the children to make them fight in their wars, using the pen to enlist them, the elders buried a pen in the ground, putting a curse on it and on education. Today, people in this quiet corner of Uganda dispute the wisdom of their decision, but changing the situation it has left them in is difficult.

Locheng dreams of being able to read and write. Walking through the streets of a nearby town, he observes that the buildings and the vehicles people drive all come, originally, from the pen. Whilst children in the west often play truant at every opportunity, Locheng peeps in the windows of the schoolhouse, trying to decipher what the teachers say. To go to school would cost a lot of money. He hopes, one day, to find a way. In the meantime he works as a shepherd and we see him pass on his skills - his own gift of education - to younger children.

With no outsider narration at all - the only voiceover coming from Locheng himself - this gentle, observational film comes as close as is possible to exploring his world without passing judgement. We see the beauty of the plains and the life he lives with his goats, an existence many might think of as idyllic, and we're left to wonder if the elders were right in trying to preserve the old ways, but Locheng is himself an astute observer who is keenly aware of what they sacrificed by doing so, for themselves and for their descendants. Digging in the earth, he may not be able to find the fabled pen, but he scratches characters, trying to teach himself to write.

The day I saw this film I met an elderly newspaper-seller who, watching passing students, confessed that he didn't understand why they spent all their time with books. For all those who wonder like that, Unearthing The Pen is an answer.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2009
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A bold young Karimojong boy digs in the ground to unearth a curse his tribal elders once put on education.
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Director: Carol Salter

Starring: Locheng

Year: 2009

Runtime: 12 minutes

Country: UK, Uganda

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