World of wonder: the travelogues of Theo Regout

In the films of Theo Regout (1901-1988), we see a completely candid adventurer come to the fore: he light-heartedly films how he gets lost in the Algerian Sahara with his wife Luise.

The couple set up camp nearby an abandoned fort, and count the days. Trusting in a good outcome, they have breakfast in the sun and take stock of their supplies, and take walks in their nearby surroundings. 

travel fever

The films of Theo Regout show above all a fascination with travelling. These are not anthropological films, but rather journeys to the exotic and the mysterious. As an adventurer, Regout follows in the footsteps of the great nineteenth-century explorers, except that he brings a camera along so that he can show us what he sees.

the Regouts

Theo Regout was the son of a family of industrialists (the Sphinx pottery and Mosa porcelain and tile factories) and managers from Maastricht. He studied law and geography. Beginning in the mid-1920s, Regout travelled almost every year to Africa, South America, or Asia. At first he often travelled with friends, and later he was usually accompanied by his wife Luise.

first travel film: the Sahara

In the winter of 1930 - 1931, Regout took a 16mm film camera with him for the first time, when he and Felix Schimmelpenninck van der Oye travelled through the Sahara to Sudan. Upon returning, he edited the footage into the film Dwars door de Sahara naar het land van de slaapziekte.

The film was screened during film evenings at the Volksuniversiteit, at meetings of geographical associations, and at patronage buildings and private clubs.

Afghanistan

This experience seems to have been a success, as Regout then began making films out of each long journey that he undertook. 

In the next year, 1932, he headed to Afghanistan with Alphons Hustinx:

Van Maastricht naar het verre Afghanistan (fragment)

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Regout and his wife then took two long trips to Africa, resulting in Door het oerwoud naar de bronnen van de Nijl (1934) and Geheimen van de Sahara en Soudan (1938). 

South America in colour

Between these two African journeys, Regout visited South America in 1936, together with his cousin Zeno Van Dorth tot Medler. Kodak had just introduced 16mm colour stock film, and for the first time, Regout filmed this trip in colour: De kleurenfilm ontdekt Zuid-Amerika (1936). 

war

During the war, Regout and his family moved back to Limburg from The Hague. During this period, he worked in the family business. After the war, he resumed his travels and his filmmaking activities.
 
He then began making not only his own films, but also missionary films for two congregations in Limburg. These missionary films, Afrika ontwaakt (1949) and Het nieuwe rhythme in de wildernis (1952), were sound films, in contrast to Regout’s own (silent) travel films.

Afrikaans avontuur (1953)

In the early 1950s, Regout went on a much longer journey through Africa; he stayed there for almost two years, and took his whole family with him. During this period, he made his second missionary film, as well as his own film Afrikaans avontuur, which featured shots of the Belgian Congo, the Serengeti, and getting lost in the Sahara. 
 
Of course, everything turns out fine: they hand a note to some camel herders who happen to be passing by, and after about a week, a barrel of gasoline is delivered (also by camel) from a nearby military base.

Regout films the empty cans spread out as they leave the area, on the way to their next adventure: they will meet their children at Lake Kivu, a few thousand kilometres away.

  • Lost in the Sahara: Afrikaans avontuur

  • Luise found a well

  • On the way to their next adventure

outside of the cinema circuit

Regout screened his films outside of the official cinema circuit. Especially in the first half of the twentieth century, the compartmentalized Netherlands was full of clubs and associations – from Catholic patronages to agricultural information services. These various associations played an important role in the social life of that period, and the groups often organized lectures, plays, and film screenings. 
 
Within this circuit, Regout was a popular guest. He organized hundreds of screenings, where he would also introduce the film in person. The silent films were then projected, accompanied by romantic, nineteenth-century gramophone music.

promotion and information

To promote his screenings, Regout distributed pamphlets in which he included a brief report about the relevant journey, featuring photos and a map. Sometimes he also included some positive reviews from the newspapers.

In the film-screening circuit that Regout formed a part of, he often had to project his films under unprofessional conditions. That is why his last brochure listed the ideal conditions for his film screenings: it explained the type of electric power that was needed, the minimal distance from the projector to the screen, and the desire for a non-smoking environment. 

financial success

In the 1930s, Regout would charge a screening fee of 100 guilders, which would easily amount to 800 euros per night in today’s money. This made him the best-paid film exhibitor in the Netherlands. But a Regout screening could also be quite lucrative for the club that organized it: ticket prices ranged from 50 cents to one guilder, and some evenings attracted several hundred visitors.

sponsorship

In addition to Regout’s travel companions, his automobile was also a permanent and reliable partner. He took his first trips using a Ford, a car that took Regout straight through the heat of the deserts and the rains of the monsoons. 
 
This was also a good promotion for Ford, as demonstrated by the fact that they paid for the maintenance of the car. In 1932, Maandblad Ford Wereld (Ford World Monthly) even featured a small publication about his trip to Afghanistan and the Middle East, under the title “Per Ford naar de verloren stad Petra” (“By Ford to the lost city of Petra”). In his later trips, Regout would travel in a Land Rover.

final film evenings

In 1961, Regout made his last travel film, Droomwereld achter de horizon. His advancing age meant that these far-flung destinations were increasingly difficult for him, and the advent of television also meant less demand for film nights in the patronage buildings.

Droomwereld achter de horizon (fragment)

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cinematic screenings after all

Although Regout made most of his films in the 1930s and 1950s, his work was not screened in a cinema until 1998. In that year, the former Filmmuseum screened a compilation of Regout’s African films, under the title Afrikaans avontuur, the same title that Regout gave to his 1953 film. This compilation was screened for several weeks.

It contains three long excerpts from Dwars door de Sahara naar het land van de slaapziekte, Door het oerwoud naar de bronnen van de Nijl, and Afrikaans avontuur.

Afrikaans avontuur (1998)

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