Filmfabriek Hollandia – A National Superpower

On 18 May 1912 the Maatschappij voor Wetenschappelijke Cinematografie was founded in Haarlem. D. de Clerq was the director and Maurits H. Binger – the driving force behind the new company – became its appointed commissioner.  The company’s purpose was to produce documentary films. 

At the same time, its counterpart, the Maatschappij voor Artistieke Cinematografie, was started up with the aim of producing fiction films. In May 1913 both companies merged; they were first called the Maatschappij voor Wetenschappelijke en Artistieke Cinematografie and then in 1914 renamed Filmfabriek Hollandia

Binger’s small start and big ambitions

Hollandia would grow to become the most important producer of feature films before WWII and, quantitatively, the biggest in Dutch film history. But in its early years, around 1913-1914, the production company set out to make short documentaries. These were meant to be screened for schoolchildren, among others. In an interview in 1916, Binger mentions that the discussions that took place in 1912 regarding the importance of film in education had inspired his plan to start his own film company.

Binger’s secret ambition, however, was to make fiction film. In 1913, he hired a permanent group of actors and actresses to perform in his films. He assembled them in a theatre company called Hollandia Tooneel, and they also performed on stage. Binger made his first short feature films with Hollandia Tooneel under the direction of the well-known theatre director and actor Louis H. Chrispijn. The female star in these films is Annie Bos.

The outbreak of WWI marked the start of Hollandia’s most active years. In less than five years, more than 30 full-length feature films were produced. The majority of these were made in Hollandia’s own film studio and on estates around Haarlem owned by industrialist friends. Binger directed most of the films and the biggest names besides Annie Bos in the cast used for these films were: Adelqui Migliar, Willem van der Veer, Lola Cornero, Paula de Waart and Jan van Dommelen

Some success, but no profits

Originally, the films had a typically Dutch character to them, just as the short films made before the war had. Examples of this are Majoor Frans – adapted from a book by A.L.G. Bosboom-Toussaint – and Het geheim van Delft. But as time went by, Binger increasingly chose to make more worldly dramas.

The films were reasonably successful, but didn’t bring in much money. This was primarily because there was seldom more than one copy of each film in circulation at a time. Distribution was done not by Hollandia itself, but by third parties: Cinema Palace of HAP. This meant that the profit from the rental went not to Hollandia, but the distributors.

After the war, the hoped-for breakthrough outside of the Netherlands never happened. Hollandia, just like many other European companies, had to contend with the powerful rise of American film and the big production companies that would dominate the world market. There was less room for smaller companies like Hollandia.

End of an idyll

In order to turn the tide, Binger entered into an agreement with the English film trader Harry R. Smith. They would produce films for the English market. It turned out that this was the beginning of the end. Up to that point, Hollandia had been a sort of family business with a steady group of employees – actors and actresses as well as cameramen, technicians and production workers – with Binger as their ‘father figure’. The arrival of the English put an end to this idyll. It was as if the heart of the company gave out – especially after the actors and actresses were all warned their time was near. At best, they might appear in a supporting role. The curtain even fell for Annie Bos. She was written off as being ‘too old’ and Binger let her go without even protesting – something for which she blamed him for years thereafter.

The Englishman B.E. Doxat-Pratt was brought on as director, the actors came over from the Great Britain and the screenplays were based on English society plays. The films received mediocre reviews in both in the Netherlands and Great Britain.  Binger traded Smith in for the distributor A.G. Granger, but the matter was settled. Despite the occasional success, Anglo-Hollandia-film – the new name of the alliance – went bankrupt in August 1923, only a few months after the untimely death of Maurits Binger.

Astronomical investments

The bankruptcy of Hollandia signalled the end of the biggest Dutch film company. Through the years, Hollandia almost synonymous with Dutch feature film production around WWI.

And while Hollandia certainly wasn’t the only Dutch producer, it did leave its mark on this period. This was especially thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Maurits Binger who – just as Franz Anton Nöggerath, jun. a few years before him – pursued his dream to make his own films.

It was a dream that, according to Idzerda’s calculations in an article in the Dutch trade paper 'Nieuw Weekblad voor de Cinematografie' a few years later, cost Binger more than 1.5 million guilders – an astronomical sum for that time.
In the same article, Idzerda argued that it might have been different had Binger used this capital to develop a sound production plan. Instead, most of it was used to patch up financial holes left over from irresponsible projects. But without Binger, and his capital, Hollandia would never have made it as far as it did. 


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