Mannus Franken began his career as a writer and director for student theatre.
In 1925 he moved to Paris, where he came into contact with the international avant-garde cinema. In an attempt to raise awareness for these avant-garde films in the Netherlands, he became involved with the Filmliga.
Franken became the Filmliga’s Paris-based representative and programmer. He also wrote articles for various newspapers. In the late 1920s, Franken made his first films: Branding, Regen (both with Joris Ivens), and Jardin du Luxembourg. In the 1930s, he directed several films.
In 1934, Franken moved to the Dutch East Indies to shoot the films Pareh, het lied van de rijst and Tanah Sabrang. He was also for some time the cameraman for the ANIF newsreel. During the Second World War, Franken was in the Netherlands, but in 1945 he moved back to the Dutch East Indies, this time to make a few films for the Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst. In the Dutch East Indies, he also contributed to the cinema newsreels Wordende wereld, made by Multifilm-Batavia.
In 1949, he returned to the Netherlands, where he made another film for the Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst.