The considerable indignation about the Netherlands's colonial past that still flares up regularly is in part due to the image that was presented in government-produced films about the Dutch Indies. According to these films, the Dutchman is a doer of good deeds without exception. In her doctoral research, Gerda Jansen Hendriks outlines the background to these film images, which to the present day have played a key role in shaping the collective memory in the Netherlands of the former colony. Jansen Hendriks will be defending her doctoral thesis on Friday, 28 November at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
‘The exploitation of labourers, summary executions, the torching of villages: none of this was ever shown in government films about the Dutch Indies. Consequently, it is difficult for us, in our age of abundant visual information, to imagine that Dutch people ever committed inhumane acts in the Dutch Indies,’ according to Jansen Hendriks.
In her thesis, Jansen Hendriks throws light on a number of hitherto unknown facts, such as the early establishment of a government film company in the 1910s, or the story of the propaganda films made during the Second World War for American audiences and which were never screened in the Netherlands owing to their progressive nature. Jansen Hendriks re-examines the role of film maker Joris Ivens as Film Commissioner for the Netherlands East Indies and draws attention to the close relationship the Netherlands Government Information Service (RVD) had with the Polygoon cinema newsreel and the NTS television news programme.
Film production after 1945, as the Netherlands begins a colonial war in Indonesia, is a textbook example of the type of propaganda that the authorities themselves are all too eager to accept as the truth. The government film company Multifilm Batavia, to give it its full name, made numerous news stories portraying an idealised image of the colony and Dutch soldiers as ‘ambassadors of good works’. ‘It is not exactly surprising that the government wanted to project such an image, but it is at the very least problematic that these films are still used today in television programmes, allowing this type of propaganda to persist. The film archive depicts the Netherlands as the eternal colonial power that has the best intentions for its citizens and subjects,’ concludes Jansen Hendriks.
The films that are the heart of Jansen Hendriks's doctoral thesis will be available on the internet following its publication. On Friday, 28 November, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision will be launching a channel showcasing its own collection of films about the Dutch Indies.
G. Jansen Hendriks, Een voorbeeldige kolonie: Nederlands-Indië in 50 jaar overheidsfilms 1912-1962. Supervisors: Prof. J.C.H. Blom and Prof. F.P.I.M. van Vree.
The doctoral thesis defence ceremony will take place on Friday, 28 November at 11:00.
Place: UvA Aula, Singel 411, Amsterdam.