The Dutch Feature Film in the 1920s

The end of WWI ushered in major changes in the film world. The American film industry had developed enormously during the war. Thanks to its large internal market and the halt on the import of foreign products, it had grown into a strong, thriving industry that far surpassed the European market in both quality and quantity. 

Smaller companies squeezed out

The power of Hollywood – and in particular, the big production companies or ‘majors’ – was clearly felt by the European industry. It was a tough situation for many smaller companies and in the end, they didn’t make it. 

This happened to Dutch producers, too: Amsterdam Film Cie and Filmfabriek Hollandia tried in vain to survive by co-operating with German and English partners, respectively. In 1923, both producers went bankrupt. Rembrandt Film Co, owned by Johan Gildemeijer, put its activities on the backburner and actually only produced a number of Gildemeijer’s own film experiments.

Room in the niches

And yet there still seemed to be room for a Dutch film industry, but only for companies who focused on sectors with a demand that wasn’t met by foreign producers. These included Dutch industrial films and commissioned films, as well as advertising films, educational films and national newsreels. These were the mainstays of the Dutch film industry, and they provided enough work for companies such as Polygoon, Haghe Film, Orion and Profilti – as well as the animation studios Geesink and Toonder in later years – to remain financially afloat.

Belief in the features

There were also filmmakers and producers, however, who still believed in the Dutch feature film. A few people, such as Eduard IJdo, tried to go it alone; others started up new companies. The first of these was The Dutch Film Co, led by David Sluizer and veteran filmmaker Alex Benno The latter would also start directing films, along with another old hand in the business, Theo Frenkel, sen. It used the old Hollandia complex in Haarlem as its studio.

The Dutch Film Co didn’t have much luck: the negatives from its first project, Cirque Hollandais, were destroyed in a studio fire and the entire film needed to be recorded again. The end result wasn’t a big success and in 1926, the Dutch Film Co filed for bankruptcy.

Benno had already left the company some time before and was producing films for his own distribution company, Actueel Film. It turned out to be a lucrative venture. Benno chose to make typical Dutch dramas and, following up on Binger’s De Jantjes, he made two successful sequels, Bleeke Bet and Oranje Hein. In the Netherlands these films belong to a specific genre called the ‘Jordaanfilm’.

The comedy actress Adriènne Solser took the same route. For Eureka, her own company, she took the role of leading lady in four of the ‘Bet films’. These were lively dramas with the folksy Bet as the central figure. Solser travelled all throughout the country with her films and sang the popular tunes in the films at every showing. The death of her son André Boesnach, Eureka’s manager and director of two of the Bet films, marked the end of her success in film.

Benno, too, had stopped producing in the meantime; the rise of the sound film and, to a lesser extent, the influence of the international avant-garde resulted in a radical change of course.


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