After the failedmilitary coup, the Turkish government has carte blanche to lock away political dissidents. Seyid, a Kurdish teacher, is one of these innocent prisoners. After months in custody he is finally allowed to see his wife Beren and his eight-year-old daughter Sirin for the first time.
Sirin has never been to a prison before and paints a picture of the colourful bird in their garden for her father. Beren brings a bag of mandarins, her husband’s favourite fruit. But before they can see Seyid, a prison official confiscates Beren’s bag and leaves her only two mandarins. Even Sirin has to show her painting. The official interprets the bird as an anarchistic symbol and destroys the picture in front of her.
The little girl is devastated, but Seyid gives his daughter renewed hope by reminding her that our freedom of thought is indestructible. Sirin understands his advice and for her second visit she paints a picture of a mandarin tree. Although the tree is not a 'dangerous' symbol, the prison official calls his supervisor to make sure. Sirin is worried about her gift for her father. Then the official reluctantly waves the picture through – along with the mandarins, of which Beren has brought only two this time.
When Seyid sees his daughter again, who is now wearing a headscarf, he feels sad. Ensuring her freedom was always why he never gave up despite all the humiliations. He gives his wife a disappointed look. When the guards turn away, Sirin takes off her headscarf and pulls out a third mandarin. Seyid is overjoyed at her real reason for wearing the headscarf. Sirin smiles back and presents her father with her painting of the mandarin tree from their garden.
Back in his prison cell, Seyid discovers a tiny bag of sunflower seeds inside the smuggled mandarin. After thinking for a moment, he understands: hidden in the painting of the mandarin tree is another special gift for him – a message from Sirin to show him that she will never give up.
For me, imagination was always a safe place to get away from everything. Especially while growing up in Turkey as a little Kurdish kid, who has to face war with all its injustice and misery. It took many years for me to realize that imagination is not only an escape but primarily a fundamental source for inspiration. Today that inspiration drives my work as a film director. And that inspiration is what I want share with everybody who watches »The Mandarin Tree«, a film about freedom that starts with imagination.
»Freedom starts with imagination.« – That is what our film THE MANDARIN TREE is all about. And that is why Cengiz Akaygün became a filmmaker in the first place. He has experienced political and social oppression first-hand when he grew up in Turkey as a Kurd. Today he has found a new home in Germany, where he works as a director to make a difference by telling engaging stories.