Many famous documentary filmmakers have emerged from the Netherlands. Think of filmmakers like Joris Ivens, Bert Haanstra, Herman van der Horst, Johan van der Keuken who had almost been forgotten, had their films not been restored and rediscovered in the digital era. Every year Holland sets forth its documentary tradition with the largest documentary filmfestival in the world: the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, which takes place in november, lasts about twelve days and has about 165.000 visitors every year. This list aims to give a bit of insight into Dutch documentary cinema with information on classics as well as modern masterpieces.
EARLY DOCUMENTARY FILM AND JORIS IVENS (1895 – 1945)
In the early days documentary film was mostly used as propaganda for the military. One of the earliest documentary films is Holland Neutraal: Leger en Vlootfilm (1917), a 150 minute documentary on the Dutch army. In the 1920’s many production companies were formed that produced many silent films between 30 and 70 minutes. Yet, many of these films were fiction films and there was little attention for documentary film.
In 1928 documentary pioneer Joris Ivens, made De Brug, while a year later he made his first avant-garde masterpiece Regen. Soon after that, however, he left Holland for the Soviet Union to make propaganda films there and would continue to travel around the world to make films until a very old age. As we focus on Dutch documentary cinema here, we will continue with other documentarymakers who made films in Holland, but if you wish to know more about Ivens I’d advise you to check out some of the lists here on mubi, like the one by Kenji.
Another early pioneer was documentarymaker Max de Haas, who made an early independant filmic essay on Amsterdam called … Over the next couple of decades he made many more films, of which one is set in the extremely strict Calvinist village of Staphorst, where people in 1955 still believed the camera was the eye of the devil. (you can see people literally run away from the camera)
DUTCH DOCUMENTARY SCHOOL (1945 – 1965)
After the war one of the most influential schools of documentary cinema in Holland emerged; the Dutch Documentary School. Among its members were; Herman van der Horst, Bert Haanstra, Charles Huguenot van der Linden, Jan Vrijman, Kees Stip, Ed van der Elsken, John Fernhout, Ytzen Brusse, Jan Hulsker, Max de Haas, Louis van Gasteren, Hattum Hoving and Rudi Hornecker. These men were seen as artistic descendants of the great painters of past centuries, like Rembrandt, Vermeer and van Gogh. Whenever a film won a prize at a major festival like Cannes, Venice or Berlin these filmmakers were welcomed back in Holland as footbal players nowadays. These were the times documentary film was still played in the film theatres, instead of television.
The movement’s films were easy to identify as most of them shared a couple of stylistic characterics; the films were carefully planned ahead, rythmically fast paced, they had little or no voice-over in them, made brilliant use of impressionist sound to set atmosphere and tone and examined the line between fiction and documentary film. Especially Bert Haanstra staged many parts of his films, which isn’t surprising, considering he also made many fiction films. Others like Herman van der Horst had less fiction in them and were assignment films, but were shot in such an impressionist manner some of the scenes could have been staged in a succesful manner just as well.
(More information as well as profiles of directors will follow later)
VPRO DOCUMENTARY SCHOOL
The VPRO documentary school was a Group of filmmakers that produced films for the now still active broadcast channel VPRO. (Free Protestant Radio Network) Dismissing the films of the Dutch Documentary School as old fashioned the members of the VPRO documentary school took the camera on their shoulders like Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers. The filmmakers involved in this movement were: Jan Vrijman, Roelof Kiers, Hans Keller, Pieter Verhoeff, Maarten Schmidt, Thomas Doebele, Netty Rosenfeld, Cherry Duyns, Frank Wiering, Theo Uittenbogaard, Jan de Bont, Frans Bromet, Hans Verhagen and Johan van der Keuken. Coming from a journalistic, photographic as well as filmic background the focus of these filmmakers was more on art and politics.
Johan van der Keuken
Johan van der Keuken was born in Amsterdam in 1938. He started out in photography at a very young age and at only 17 years old he caused a riot in post-war, petite-bourgeois Holland with his photoseries on teenagers from his high school called ‘’we are 17’’. The way he portrayed the insecure and miserable youth and the generation gap with adults was something no photographer had shown before in the Netherlands. It shocked the older generation, who had completely different ideas about work and the future than the younger generation at the time.
About a year later he travelled to Paris to study film at the IDHEC (there was no film school in Holland yet at the time) When he finished the school he returned to Holland and his parents gave him a bolex camera. With this camera he could film maximum 25 seconds long takes and he was unable to record synchronised sound, a limitation that allowed van der Keuken to be inventive with sound. This becomes apparant in one of the first films he shot with his Bolex camera; Blind Kind (Blind Child). This poetic 20 minute film was shot in a blind children’s institute and attempts to give an insight into the life of blind children and their perception of the world around them. This film would later prove to be an extremely important film in van der Keuken’s career and the development of his working methods.
In a documentary made on van der Keuken he describes his working method: ‘’I start directing these people I’m filming and at a certain point I lose control over them. Then I start observing them and the result ends up somewhere between reality and fiction.‘’ In the same documentary we can see van der Keuken doing many retakes of the people he films, a method that didn’t result into perfectly framed still shots, but rather snap-shot, cinema-verite handheld camerawork always done by van der Keuken himself. For a master of framing like van der Keuken what’s out of the frame was as important as what’s inside the frame and everything he shoots has been carefully thought over, even if something has to be put into scene. In another article van der Keuken wrote that it was fiction films that inspired the narratives for most of his films and especially Alain Resnais was a main influence.
In the next decades van der Keuken would continue to make films about artists, political subjects, intimate portraits of ordinary people, films about people all over the world and different cultures (but also his beloved home city Amsterdam in the epic Amsterdam Global Village) and many more subjects and themes. The border between reality and fiction would continue to play a big role in the many films he made during his career. A career that would suddenly come to an end when van der Keuken was diagnosed with cancer in 1998. This lead to van der Keuken’s filmic testament; De Grote Vakantie (The Long Vacation), who some argue is also his best.
(more information as well as profiles of more directors will be added later)
CONTEMPORARY DUTCH DOCUMENTARY FILM
More a scattered mix of filmmakers who mostly work independent or for television networks (like the VPRO) than a group who joined forces and shared stylistic trademarks, Holland’s contemporary documentarymakers have produced a wide variety of works. One of these work is Jos de Putter’s poetic masterpiece: Het is een Schone Dag Geweest, in which de Putter examines the last days of his father as a farmer before retirement. Another noteable work is Heddy Honigmann’s O Amor Natural, where she uses the poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade to hear elderly Brazilians out about their sex life. The most recent succes has been Leonard Retel Helmrich trilogy; Stand van de Zon, Stand van de maan and Stand van de Sterren, where he followed an Indonesian family for more than a decade, shot in his peculiar Single Shot Cinema. The last part of the trilogy won the most important awards at IDFA and the documentary prize at Sundance.
(more information as well as profiles of directors will follow later)
Max de Haas
Dutch documentary school
Herman van der Horst
Charles Huguenot van der Linden
Ed van der Elsken
Louis van Gasteren
VPRO documentary school
Jan de Bont
Johan van der Keuken
Jos de Putter
Leonard Retel Helmrich
Yan Ting Yuen
De Brug (1928, Ivens)
Regen (1929, Ivens)
Philips-Radio (1931, Ivens)
Song of Heroes (1932, Ivens)
Borinage (1933, Ivens)
Nieuwe Gronden (1933, Ivens)
De Ballade van den Hoogen Hoed (1936, de Haas)
Power and the Land (1940, Ivens)
Indonesia Calling (1946, Ivens)
LO/LPK (1949, de Haas)
Bruin Goud (1952, van Gasteren)
La Seine a Rencontre Paris (1957, Ivens)
…A Valperaiso (1962, Ivens)
The Mistral (1965, Ivens)
Far From Vietnam (1967, Ivens)
17th Parallel:Vietnam in War (1968, Ivens)
The Football Incident (1976, Ivens)
The Pharmacy: Shanghai (1976, Ivens)
A Tale of the Wind (1988, Ivens)
Parlevinker (1949, Brusse)
Broer Pietersen Schoot in de Roos (1950, Brusse)
Spiegel van Holland (1950, Haanstra)
Wij Leven Vrij! (1951, Stip)
Houen zo! (1952, van der Horst)
Een Mens was teveel (1952, Hornecker)
Vieren Maar! (1954, van der Horst)
Dag Koninginnedag (1957, Vrijman)
ABC (1958, John Fernhout)
Prijs de Zee (1958, van der Horst)
Glas (1958, Haanstra)
Faja Lobbi (1960, van der Horst)
Handen (1960, van der Elsken)
Zeilen (1962, Hoving)
Zoo (1962, Haanstra)
De Werkelijkheid van Karel Appel (1962, Vrijman)
Welkom in het Leven (1963, van der Elsken)
Alleman (1963, Haanstra)
Fietsen (1965, van der Elsken)
Fortress of Peace (1965, Fernhout)
De Verliefde Camera (1971, van der Elsken)
Deze Kleine Wereld (1973, van der Linden)
De Drie Generaties (1983, Fernhout)
Het Bewaarde Landschap (1985, Fernhout)
Blind Kind (1964, van der Keuken)
Beppie (1965, van der Keuken)
Cornelis Verolme, Scheepsbouwer (1967, Kiers)
De Tijdgeest (1968, van der Keuken)
Vakantie van de Filmer (1974, van der Keuken
De Weg naar het Zuiden (1981, van der Keuken
Lucebert, Tijd en Afscheid (1994, van der Keuken)
Amsterdam Global Village (1995, van der Keuken)
Het is een Schone Dag Geweest (1993, de Putter)
Solo, de Wet van de Favela (1994, de Putter)
Beyond The Game (2008, de Putter)
O Amor Natural (1996, Honigmann)
Het Ondergrondse Orkest (1997, Honigmann)
El Olvido (2008, Honigmann)
Johan Cruijff – En Un Momento Dado (2004, Gieling)
Stand van de Zon (2001, Helmrich)
Stand van de Maan (2004, Helmrich)
Stand van de Sterren (2006, Helmrich)
Moeder Dao, de Schildpadgelijkende (1995, Monnikendam)
Ford Transit (2002, Abu-Assad)
Dinner with Murakami (2007, Yuen)
Made in Korea -Een Enkeltje Amsterdam – Seoul? (2006, Radstake)
Parradox (2010, Radstake)
Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2008, Martens)
Beperkt Houdbaar (2007, Bergman)
Faja Lobbi (Fiery Love or Symphony of the Tropics)
Herman van der Horst’s impressionist masterpiece about the inlands of Suriname (then still under Dutch control) There is no dialogue in the film and can be enjoyed without knowledge of the Dutch language. The film won a Golden Bear in 1960 for best documentary in Berlin.
Het Ondergrondse Orkest (The Underground Orchestra) by Heddy Honigmann
A documentary about street musicians in the underground of Paris.
Language: French with English subtitles
Tiger Eyes by Frank Scheffer
Deep essay film with some of the most important film directors (Hou, Haneke, Wenders, Jarmusch, Ruiz, Kiarostami) of contemporary cinema, chosen by the past and current IFFR directors.
Language: English, German, French, Farsi, Dutch with Dutch subtitles
(more links to watch films will follow later)Read less