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First ‘Netherlands Central Film Archive’ was established 100 years ago

On the 27th of October, Heritage institutions around the globe celebrate UNESCO's World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. It’s a good occasion to open the oldest part of the audio visual archive. A unique collection of films is made available to the general public. Curator Bas Agterberg takes you through the collection of the ‘Netherlands Central Film Archive’ that was established on the 19th of October 1919 in The Hague.

The founders did most probably not envision the National Institutes that exist today, like the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum or EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam. They were however proud and self-conscious calling themselves the first Audio-visual Archive in Europe. The films the NFC collected are nowadays at EYE Film Institute and Sound and Vision.

Film Collection

What do the films in this collection tell us one hundred years later? Films show and tell about the culture and history of the Netherlands. That was the motivation to start collect films. An amateur historian, D.S. van Zuiden, visited a Folklore event in the city of Arnhem and saw that it was filmed. He wrote a public letter in a national Newspaper suggesting that films about such events should be preserved for future generations. 

Founding Fathers

One month later Van Zuiden became one of the founders of The Netherlands Central Film Archive. The board consisted of people of higher class and different positions in society. They were the State Archivist R. Fruin, a general secretary of the section Arts and Education of the city The Hague, a banker, the general manager of the School Cinema and two members of Parliament. The board had a good mix of expertise in archiving, politics, management, finances and media literacy. The view that film was a useful source of information, was not common at the time. Film was rather seen as a form of cheap entertainment, a Fairground Attraction.

An image of the Netherlands 

Between 1920 and 1933 a collection of about 800 film titles has been preserved. Some companies handed over their films made before 1919. The archive was completely financed by partners, such as local councils and some individuals. The government did not support financially because some acknowledged Historians advised negative on State Funding. In their view film lacked cultural value. Only in1930 the Archive received some funding by the government. The bad financial situation did actually limit the possibilities of the Archive to become a professional organisation. Yet the initiative secured the preservation of a fine collection of films of the era. Now that everyone can watch the films online the question arises what image of the Netherlands do these films offer us?


As mentioned earlier the starting point was a Folklore event in Arnhem in 1919. There are more films about cultural life in the Netherlands, like the succesfull Neerlands volksleven in de lente (Dutch folklore in Spring). Traditions can be found in films on the yearly celebration of Sinterklaas, or events such as a Wedding at the pittoresque Isle of Marken, the celebration of 900 Years of Soest,  the traditional culture of Oysters. The sports on the water like Sailing and especially Ice skating are numerously documented. More rare is the Sleigh on the ice in Leeuwarden.


The local councils discovered film as a marketing tool to attract tourists to their city or village. The company Haghe film offered a fixed price per meter film if a council wanted a promotion film. A letter by the Central Filmarchive was sent to councils to encourage the production of such films. One can easily make an ABC with films on the promotional films about Dutch places like Alkmaar, Bergen at sea, Deventer, Eindhoven, FranekerGiethoorn, Heerlen, Leiden, Kampen, Maastricht, Noordwijk, Oisterwijk, Poeldijk, Ruurlo, Scheveningen, Sittard, Texel, Urk, Vorden, Weesp, Zaandam

Visual News

The first film has been registered in the catalogue in 1921. It was a newsreel on Dutch houses that were constructed in the village of Lens in France. Lens had been destroyed during the First World War and the Dutch helped to reconstruct the town.

In the 1920s people were increasingly able to see what was happening in the world in these Newsreels.

Information map of the NCF: "Lens - Dutch village in France". Recorded in the NCF collection in 1920.

Time Picture

For a large part of the audience these kind of films were probably the first glimpse beyond the borders of their own village or city. In the 1920s people were increasingly able to see what was happening in the world in these Newsreels. It offers a sign of the times of the International relations that the Netherlands maintained in the 1920s, for instance in the marriage of the former German Emperor in Doorn, the visit of the Spanish King Alfonso XIII to a Dutch exhibition in Madrid, the opening of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, or the visit of the Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito.

Pictures of the village of Lens in northern France, rebuilt after the First World War, inhabited by Dutch emigrants and people of Dutch descent.

Information map of the NCF: Unveiling of a memorial for the army and fleet. Included in the NCF collection on September 20, 1921

Royal Family

The Royal Family has been an important source for news gathering. The second film that has been registered in the Archive was a newsreel in which Queen Wilhelmina revealed a memorial on the 20th of September 1921 in Scheveningen, The Hague. The Memorial was removed temporarily in 2018 because of redesign of the Boulevard. In these kind of News reels the Dutch audience could actually see their Queen in a moving image for the first time. It was a quite popular subject. The camera was present when the Queen revealed statues or memorials, it showed Visits to foreign countries or cities in the Netherlands, the Queens going on a Holiday or Celebrations. One could say that the subjects have hardly changed since the 1920s.

Unveiling of the Memorial to the Mobilized Forces of the Army and Fleet, by H.M. Queen Wilhelmina, 1914 - 1918.


The colonies were also an appealing subject for filmmakers and the audience. Most people did have relatives working ‘in the East’ and were curious what this part of the Netherlands looked like. Several companies went to the Netherlands Indies to offer a view on the Coffee Culture, the Growing of Sugar, on a factory in Soerabaja. Similar to travel programmes on television today the Islands of Indonesia were presented, in films like Biliton, Nederlands Oost Indische Archipel, Mahakoeasa and Mahamoelia.


The industry commissioned film companies to shoot a film on their modern Factories. The Rubber factory, the Diamand industry or Factories like the Hollandse draad en kabelfabriek show the modern production processes. The Linoleum Factory in Krommenie is still operating today. The films about the Mining show the growing demand for energy that is required for the modern houses that need Household appliances. The films also tell us that transport is growing enormously in the 1920s, there is a demand for Bicycles and one can already book a flight with KLM.


The commissioned films were made to carry out an image of a company. It was also possible to show short commercials in Cinema. Modern life offered candies luke chocolate, a new bicycle in an animated commercial , Piet Pelle op zijn Gazelle or an invitation to shop for Sinterklaas in the still existing department Store de Bijenkorf. The new medium radio was promoted by the slogan Europe in your hand.  Apparently, it was affordable for local shops to make commercial like in the city Veendam, and for a local garage in Haarlem. For a Magazine on Film it made sense to attract the visitors to buy the latest edition.  


The Archive collected between 50 and 100 films yearly. Eventually it was a conflict with the film industry that resulted in the end of the Archive in 1933. The films were kept in a safe inside the National Archive. After World War II the films were stored at the newly founded State Film Archive (RVD) and the Netherlands Filmmuseum. During the project Images for the Future most of the films have been preserved and digitized. After a thorough research on Copyright about 400 films of the Netherlands Film Archive have been made available to a general audience online