The Forgotten Hero – Sjef van Dongen

Year: 2014

Director: Frans Mouws

Playing time: 70 minutes

In this documentary, film-maker Frans Mouws sets out to rescue the forgotten polar explorer and hero Sjef van Dongen from obscurity. In 1928, Sjef van Dongen was involved in an international mission to rescue the polar expedition of the Italian general Nobile, who had crashed with his airship on the Arctic ice.

In recent decades, the Dutch polar hero Sjef van Dongen (1906-1973) has faded into obscurity; but that is something this documentary, based on the family archive and visits to various locations, aims to change. Young Sjef struggled at school, but in 1923, at the age of 17, his father arranged an office job for him at the Dutch Spitsbergen Company, which operated coal mines on Spitsbergen. In 1928, Sjef became involved in the international rescue effort for the Italian polar expedition led by General Nobile: on the return flight from the North Pole, Nobile’s airship had crashed on the Arctic ice. Sjef’s rescue attempt with a dog sled made him a hero. In the Second World War Sjef was a member of the Dutch resistance, and after the war he was active in politics: first locally, then provincially and finally nationally.

Film-maker Frans Mouws retraced Sjef’s footsteps, travelling to Spitsbergen to find out how this ordinary lad came to make global headlines. Having previously worked as an ICT manager, Mouws has been a full-time film-maker since 2010. After making a documentary about the Dutch tattoo artist Henk Schiffmacher he started working on this film about the polar hero and politician Sjef van Dongen. In 2015 the film was subtitled in English, and can now be shown in all countries that have been involved in polar expeditions.