DocFest Film Review: Pongo Calling
Words: Mark Perkins
Pongo Calling tells the remarkable story of a lorry driver in Manchester who became an unlikely social media sensation, founded a refugee charity, and became an influential voice for change. Stefan Pongo came to the UK from the Czech Republic 13 years ago, along with his family. He obtained UK citizenship while keeping his Czech nationality, but primarily regards himself as a member of the Roma community. When Milos Zeman, the president of the Czech Republic, branded 90% of Roma as workshy and lazy, Stefan was annoyed. So annoyed in fact, that he went online, and encouraged the Roma community to send him photos of themselves working. Without realising, and while still working as an HGV driver around Europe, the live streams he made from the cab of his lorry went viral. People from far and wide shared videos and a mass protest movement started to form, to the point where President Zeman was challenged by reporters to respond to the online backlash against his uncaring comments.
“Lots of people claim to be helping the Roma people, but my dad created a public account for donations, and actually drove a van himself and went to help these cut-off settlements”
Stefan was becoming a voice, and was now on a mission to help the most deprived Roma communities. So, he formed the Czech Slovak Roma Union which raised funds to provide this help. In the film, there is some harrowing footage as the director follows Stefan driving a van loaded with supplies, to be delivered to a community in Slovakia. Even though he knows that his efforts are only a sticking plaster, and that real change cannot come until attitudes change, he fights on. The film takes a shocking turn at the end, but stands as a really powerful celebration of what one man can achieve. I managed a word with one of his sons, David, ahead of the screening, and he was clearly very proud of his dad’s legacy -“Lots of people claim to be helping the Roma people, but my dad created a public account for donations, and actually drove a van himself and went to help these cut-off settlements”
Director Tomáš Kratochvíl has crafted a small masterpiece here, capturing the essence of an ordinary, but at times extra ordinary family man, simply doing what he thinks is the right thing. No voice-over, no grandstanding here, just a remarkable story of a reaction to intolerance towards minorities that is as relevant today as it has ever been