Inadvertent Ethnography in Propaganda: J. C. Lamster’s Films (1912–13)
In the early twentieth century, the Dutch colonial government, working with several private entities operating in the Netherlands East Indies, significantly increased propagandistic efforts promoting solidarity toward their colony. As part of these initiatives, a new organization, called the Colonial Institute, hired soldier-turned-filmmaker J. C. Lamster to make several short films between 1912–13. His films documented various government infrastructural programs, as well as its efforts to promote art and culture. Despite having bequeathed a prolific collection—Lamster made about fifty-five films by himself—he remains relatively unknown. It was only as recently as 2010 that a comprehensive Dutch-language biography was published. Given that Lamster’s films merit further scrutiny, this article has two objectives: to expound the historical and social circumstances in which these films were created, and to impress upon the reader that, despite falling under that broad, often dull, classification of “propaganda,” some of Lamster’s short movies deserve a legitimate place in the canon of early ethnographic film in Indonesia.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 137-56
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program