Skip to main content

Distributed for National University of Singapore Press

Celluloid Colony

Locating History and Ethnography in Early Dutch Colonial Films of Indonesia

How should colonial film archives be read? How can historians and ethnographers use colonial film as a complement to conventional written sources? Sandeep Ray uses the case of Dutch colonial film in Indonesia to show how a critically, historically, and cinematically informed reading of colonial film in the archive can be a powerful and unexpected source—one that  is more accessible than ever today because of digitization. The language of film and the conventions and forms of nonfiction film were still in formation in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Colonialism, Ray shows, was one of the drivers of this development, as the picturing of the native “other” in film was seen as an important tool to build support for missionary and colonial efforts. While social histories of photography in non-European contexts have been an area of great interest in recent years; Celluloid Colony for the first time brings moving images into the same scope of study.

288 pages | 47 halftones | 6 x 9

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

Film Studies

Nus Press Pte Ltd image

View all books from Nus Press Pte Ltd


“[The book] is very organized, well researched, and has a strong thesis…. It should have a strong audience for those interested in Asian studies, colonial studies, early cinema, and may serve also serve as an essential book for researchers and scholars on how to incorporate visual texts (films) into the larger body of historical work, as well as what to look for, and how to write about, regarding these important celluloid films.”

Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

“Well-written and extensively researched, Celluloid Colony offers a compelling case for non-fiction film as a bona fide historical source. . . A must-read for anyone with an interest in Dutch colonialism in Indonesia, visual ethnography, or propaganda film history.”

The Review

“It is always rewarding when a book on a Southeast Asian topic offers material that can shake up established disciplines and knowledge. Sandeep Ray’s book Celluloid Colony does just that. . .  Raising new possibilities for scholarship and gaining new insights into colonial modernity, this is a pathbreaking book that will illuminate and refine prevalent views on the Dutch colonial project.”

Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society

“The book’s merit is that it gives meaning to the vast collection of early colonial films, which could easily be regarded as merely representing the colonial mentality of the day.”


“The author, who is also a novelist, has a succinct and accessible writing style, with the potential to attract an audience beyond academics. . . . Celluloid Colony is a valuable and welcome contribution to the fields of ethnography, anthropology, colonial history, colonial cinema, and documentary film.”

Visual Anthropology

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press