Celluloid Colony: Locating History and Ethnography in Early Dutch Colonial Films of Indonesia focus on the study of film in the Netherlands East Indies between 1912 and 1930 and meticulously analyze overlooked primary sources that add to our knowledge of the colonial encounter. The language of film and the conventions and forms of non-fiction film were still in formation in the first two decades of the 20th century. Colonialism was one of the drivers of this development, as the picturing of the native “other” in the film was seen as an important tool to build support for missionary and colonial efforts. While social histories of photography in non-European contexts have been an area of great interest in recent years; Celluloid Colony brings moving images into the same scope of the study.
How should colonial film archives be read? How can historians and ethnographers use colonial film as a complement to conventional written sources? Sandeep Ray uses the case of Dutch colonial film in Indonesia to show how a critically-, historically- and cinematically-informed reading of the colonial film in the archive can be a powerful and unexpected source, and one more easily accessible today via digitisation.