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EMPIRE: The Legacy of Dutch Colonialism

Empire Dutch ColonialismDutch Colonialism and its long-lasting consequences are the topics of the documentary ’Empire’ at the REDCAT (photo: ’Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism’)

Mixing personal narratives, investigative journalism, video art, and split/multiple screens, Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill’s transmedia documentary Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism — the lengthy title gives you a pretty good idea of what the film is about — will have its West Coast Premiere on Monday, November 11, 2013, at 8:30 p.m. at downtown Los Angeles’ REDCAT. Both Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill are expected to attend the screening.

Previously shown at the 2013 New York Film Festival, Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism was filmed in more than half a dozen countries over the course of three years. According to the REDCAT press release, the Dutch-American filmmakers (Jongsma is Dutch; O’Neill is American) "traveled 140,000 kilometers through Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas to film this award-winning documentary."

’Sprawling’ Dutch colonial history

The release adds that "focusing on minute details and underrepresented populations," Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism "reveals the gaps, lapses and contradictions of a sprawling colonial history which lasted from the 17th to the 20th century, and stretched from the Cape of Good Hope to the Indonesian archipelago, from New York City to South America’s Wild Coast."

I’m assuming "South America’s Wild Coast" is a reference to modern-day Suriname and Northeast Brazil. In fact, both Suriname and Brazil are included among the countries Jongsma and O’Neill visited for their documentary, in addition to the aforementioned Indonesia, plus Ghana, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and the United States.

Referring to Dutch colonialism as "the first global capitalist endeavor," the REDCAT release elaborates that although Dutch colonialists "came in pursuit of short-term profits, the companies left behind a legacy that can still be seen today in the cultures, and in the bloodlines, of people and communities around the world."

And in this video interview, filmmaker / artist Eline Jongsma explains:

"There are many sides to the colonial experience. So we wanted to highlight that in the presentation, and not make a narrative film, you know, with a beginning, middle, end, and a conclusion. It doesn’t fit the subject matter. It’s a very fragmented history, and there are many untold stories, especially from the perspectives of people whose lives — or their ancestors’ lives — have been severely affected by colonialism. But it’s not something they process in the way you maybe learn in a history book."

European colonialism at the movies

As an aside, European colonialism and/or its legacy hasn’t been a topic frequently explored at the movies, apart from Empire-glorifying adventure epics such as Henry Hathaway’s Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Michael Curtiz’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Rowland V. Lee’s The Sun Never Sets (1939), and George StevensGunga Din (1939), with the likes of Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. winning the day for the British Crown. Notable exceptions to that rule include:

  • George Cukor’s Bhowani Junction (1956), starring Ava Gardner as a "half-caste" Anglo-Indian woman facing some serious issues regarding her ethnic allegiances — in terms of romance, not politics. Who should she choose: British Stewart Granger, Anglo-Indian Bill Travers, or Indian Francis Matthews (in brown make-up)?
  • Gillo Pontecorvo’s political drama Burn! / Queimada (1969), starring Marlon Brando as an Englishman who foments a revolt against Portuguese rule — so as to benefit the English sugar trade — on the Caribbean island of Queimada.
  • David Lean’s A Passage to India (1984), in which Englishwomen Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft quite literally become engulfed by the Raj — South Asia under British rule.
  • Steven Spielberg’s well-intentioned but embarrassingly contrived and historically laughable Amistad (1997), about the slave trade between Africa and the Americas.

Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill: ’Cross-platform storytelling’

Among the various film festivals, museums, and galleries that have showcased Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill’s videos and installations are the aforementioned New York Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town, and CBK Zuidoost / Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam.

Additionally, Jongsma and O’Neill’s journalistic work has been featured in The Huffington Post and on The Netherlands’ VPRO Television and De Correspondent.

A curiosity: Kel O’Neill was originally cast as Daniel Day-Lewis’ son in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, but was later replaced by Paul Dano. Among O’Neill’s other acting credits are Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Easier with Practice, with Brian Geraghty; Brian De Palma’s Redacted; and Hilary Brougher’s Stephanie Daley, with Amber Tamblyn.

’Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism’ at the REDCAT

The REDCAT is located at 631 West 2nd Street, inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. Tickets to Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism may be purchased at 213.237.2800 or at www.redcat.org, or in person at the REDCAT Box Office.

Curated by Steve Anker and Bérénice Reynaud, the presentation of Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism is partly supported by public funds from the Netherlands Cultural Services.

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