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Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia (ATOM Study Guide)

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Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia (John Hughes,2009) is a ninety-minute documentary about the making and significance of an earlier film – the 22-minute, 1946 documentary Indonesia Calling that Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens made secretly in Australia. This short film, Indonesia Calling, is one that was historically important in Australia's post-war relations with Indonesia, and with the development of the post-war Australian documentary film industry.

Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia explores the making of that film, and the national and international political context in which it was made.

Many people are not aware that Australia's support for the Indonesian Republic at its origins was crucial to Indonesian independence (1945–1949). Australia was instrumental in having the conflict between the Dutch and the Indonesians referred to the UN. Australian troops in Indonesia were the first ever UN peacekeepers. But this support was not automatic or clear-cut.

Early in 1945, shortly before the end of the Pacific War, internationally renowned left-wing Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens came to Australia as the Netherlands East Indies Film Commissioner. The Netherlands East Indies – now Indonesia – had been a Dutch colony and was occupied during the war by the Japanese. A Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed by independence leaders Sukarno and Hatta on 17 August 1945, two days after the Japanese surrender.

The Dutch had planned to very gradually implement transition to Indonesian independence, but when the Indonesians quickly declared their independence, the Dutch saw it as an insurrection and moved to reoccupy and control their former colony by force. Indonesians in Australia under their command went on strike, and Australian, Indian and Chinese workers supported them.

Western governments, including Australia, at first supported their wartime allies, despite commitments to a new post-colonial world. In protest against his government's actions, and, with a diverse team of creative collaborators, Ivens resigned his official Dutch appointment and secretly began to make what became the independent documentary Indonesia Calling. The events shown in Indonesia Calling – wharf and maritime trade union boycott of the shipment of military supplies to the Dutch government in Indonesia – helped the Indonesian nationalists maintain their struggle for independence.

The film itself helped by providing an alternative view to the official Dutch information and propaganda about the supposed lack of support in the outside world for the Indonesian nationalist struggle.

The film also provoked a covert response from the state – suspicious, authoritarian and disciplinary. An independent film made with limited resources but with passion and commitment, Indonesia Calling not only enunciated a new possibility in Australia's dialogue with Indonesia, but also announced a new mode of collaboration in an emerging Australian documentary practice.

Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia is a resource that can be used by senior secondary classes in Australian History, Asian History, International Relations and Media Studies.

It can help us understand:

  • the relationship between Australia and Asia (and especially Indonesia) in this period,
  • the role of the Australian government and national security intelligence services in national and international politics at the time,
  • the attitudes and values towards White Australia and communism that were a key part of Australian beliefs at the time, and
  • early social activism within the Australian post-war film industry.

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