Legacy of the week | Dutch Hollywood

This week started the 35th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The largest documentary film festival in the world has taken place in our city since 1988. However, the history of film in Amsterdam started much earlier. And a leading role in this was played by a collection of seemingly unremarkable buildings along Weespertrekvaart, not far from the municipal border to Duivendrecht. However messy and irrelevant the place may seem, behind the industrial facades hides a remarkable history. It is nothing less than a hidden gem of Dutch film history.

Orange factory at Weespertrekvaart

The buildings on the site date from around 1900, when more and more businesses settled on the south side of Duivendrechtsekade. Like many other places, the factories focused on the water, which was used for transportation. One of the first companies to settle here was the Oranje chemical factory at Duivendrechtsekade 85. Essential oils were produced here. In the first half of the twentieth century, the other plots on Weespertrekvaart were increasingly built up and the Oranjefabrieken was also expanded with the factory at number 90. The building at number 90 was already taken over by the French paint manufacturer in the 1920s. Les Fils Levy Finger, a bit later never varnish (Dutch Paint and Lacquer Factory). The factory building and the residence at numbers 83-85 were converted into the sound film studio Cinetone in 1933.

A photo from around 1914 shows the Orange complex, consisting of 2 factory buildings (Duivendrechtsekade 90 (left) and 85 (centre)) and two detached houses. The house in the middle has been demolished, the rest is still standing. | Photo: Amsterdam City Archives image bank (OSIM00004003589).

Sound film from the Cinetone studios

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Netherlands had only a few small film studios. Most films were shot outdoors or in a small studio. This changed with the advent of sound film. As outdoor recordings became more difficult due to the use of microphones, working in a studio was increasingly preferred. In 1933, the brothers Isidoor and Jules Biederman established the Cinetone studios in the former main building of the Oranjefabriek. Many Jewish entrepreneurs and artists were involved in this case. After ‘De Jantjes’ (1934), produced at the Cinetone studios, became the first ever successful Dutch sound film, many more followed. As the country’s leading film studio, Cinetone studios was then nicknamed ‘Holland’s Hollywood’. Another important study was in Wassenaar.

Film that takes place in one of the studios, approx.  1946-1948.  |  Photo: atelier J. Merkelbach, Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000002814).Film that takes place in one of the studios, approx. 1946-1948. | Photo: atelier J. Merkelbach, Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000002814).

Complex with many layers

Another large study space was added just one year after the studios opened. Over time, the smaller areas of the complex were redesigned as needed. This happened, for example, when the studios were renamed UFA Filmstadt Amsterdam by the German occupiers during the Second World War. The well-known architectural firm Merkelbach and Karsten was then responsible for the renovations. Therefore, after the war, the architects had to be responsible for the Honorary Council for Architecture and Applied Art. The professional ban imposed at the time was eventually lifted. The studio in Wassenaar was also taken over by the occupation forces, so both studios would only make German productions during that period. At the end of the war, the complex in Wassenaar was bombed, after which it was no longer used. The looted studios in Amsterdam, on the other hand, reopened as a fund of the Nederlandse Bioscoopbond in 1948. In that context, a dubbing room was set up in the ‘box’ on the roof. Until the 1980s, international and Dutch films were produced in the studios. Today, the studios are used for advertising recordings and events.

Duivendrechtsekade 83-87, exterior Cinetone Film Studios, main entrance with doorman.  |  Photo: atelier J. Merkelbach (1946-1948), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000002811).Duivendrechtsekade 83-87, exterior Cinetone Film Studios, main entrance with doorman. | Photo: atelier J. Merkelbach (1946-1948), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000002811).

Heritage in all its facets

Together, the buildings at the end of Duivendrechtsekade form a special ensemble. They have a common origin at the beginning of the twentieth century as part of the essential oil factory Oranje, but have since developed in two completely different directions. The building at number 90 has been a paint factory since the 1920s and its appearance is still completely intact. On the other hand, the Cinetone complex has been heavily renovated in connection with its new function, which makes the original architecture less recognizable. What makes it special is its unique history as one of the first film studios and – partly due to its leading role in the production of Dutch sound films and the restart after the Second World War – the most important studios in the Netherlands. National (film) history also includes the interdependence of studies with various Jewish personalities on the one hand and the German occupier on the other.

Building of the Neverlak painting company at Duivendrechtsekade 90. |  Photo: Monuments and Archaeology, 2022.Building of the Neverlak painting company at Duivendrechtsekade 90. | Photo: Monuments and Archaeology, 2022.

Heritage of the week

Each week, the Heritage of the Week section focuses on a special archaeological find, site, object, monumental building or historical site in the city. Via the website amsterdam.nl/erfgoed, Twitter @arv020 and Facebook Monuments and Archeology the cultural heritage experts in Monuments and Archeology share the city’s heritage with Amsterdammers and other interested parties.

Banner photo: The current ‘Amsterdam studios’ complex in the former main building of the Oranjefabriek (Duivendrechtsekade 85) and associated accommodation (Duivendrechtsekade 83). | Photo: Monuments and Archeology (2022).

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