Children’s Film from Laan to Van der Linden: Childhood Heroes

At first glance, the Dutch children’s film doesn’t appear to have been influenced by the ups and downs in the economic cycle of Dutch film. From 1900-1960, the production of Dutch children’s films definitely had its own dynamic that was independent from the production of feature films for adults. Instead, there seemed to be an alternating pattern: during the periods when fewer feature films were being made – as was the case in the 1920s and the 1950s – it was children’s films that provided a measure of continuity. Just as with the feature film, however, it seems that this apparent continuity was illusory. Production was primarily due to individual efforts rather than resulting from a healthy, independently thriving film industry. Producers Binger, Barnstijn and Meyer were the face of pre-WWII feature film; Dick Laan and Henk van der Linden played the same role in the production of children’s film in the 1920s and after WWII.

Dick Laan

The first Dutch children’s film producer was Dick Laan, a factory owner’s son from Heemstede and a passionate film fanatic who worked on several films by Filmfabriek Hollandia. In his free time, Laan was active in scouting and shortly after WWI ended, he made his first short children’s films with his scouting group De Zwarte Pijl from Bloemendaal. The actors were the scouts themselves. They had adventures just like in storybooks, or dreamed of playing an important role on the football field (football, and particularly the Royal Haarlem Football Club, was another of Laan’s passions). Catchy titles such as De wraak van De Zwarte Pijl, De zoon van Nick Carter (Nick Carter was a well-known character from contemporary detective novels) and Twee kwajongens en hun uivinding were made by Laan and his scouts. This was also true of Voetbal, a short film that received good reviews from the avant-garde circles and was shown in the Filmliga’s film programmes. Laan remained active until the late 1920s. After that he traded in his camera for pen and paper, and became famous as the writer of the ‘Pinkeltje’ books.

Henk van der Linden

After Laan, it wouldn’t be until after WWII that any real regularity returned to the production of Dutch children’s films. Around the end of the 1930s some children’s films were produced, including Uit het leven van Dik Trom and Sjors van de Rebellenclub met Vacantie but after WWII, the production started to intensify. Father Sasse van IJsselt made two suspenseful children’s films with the boys in a Catholic congregation and Ernst Winar filmed three adventures for Leiden-based Filca. The majority of Dutch film production, however, was in the hands of Henk van der Linden. This son of a cinema owner made at least one adventure film for children for his production company Rex Film every year between the 1950s and the mid-1970s. These were films in which the main characters were well-known Dutch children’s book heroes such as Pietje Bell, Dik Trom, Billy Truf and Sjors and Sjimmie. Van der Linden directed, wrote the screenplays and operated the camera while his children and their friends and acquaintances were the actors.

The films were shown weekly during matinee programmes throughout the entire country. De avonturen van Pietje Bell, for example, played for more than a year in Rotterdam’s Cineac in the mid-1960s – a record for a Dutch film. Van der Linden knew that the secret to his films’ success was not their educational value – it was because they were exciting and entertaining. It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that this would shift, when Karst van der Meulen began to make children’s films that were not only entertaining, but also dared to ask questions of young viewers.


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