During the Second World War Japan occupied Indonesia; some Indonesians found refuge in Australia and fought with this ally against the Japanese. Prior to this, the colonial Dutch had ruled Indonesia for three and a half centuries, appropriating profits from the tin mines, oil fields and rubber plantations that Indonesians worked. After the war, presuming the applicability of the Atlantic Charter to the Pacific, Indonesians declared their independence; but the Dutch were poised to reconquer Indonesia.
Documentarian Joris Ivens is himself Dutch; but, for him, Indonesia’s right to freedom and self-determination trumps Dutch nationalism and imperialism. Produced by the film unit of Australia’s Waterside Workers Federation, Ivens’s reconstructive Indonesia Calling documents in particular the concerted effort by Indonesians and regional supporters to block the entry of Dutch ships that may have been transporting arms for use against Indonesians and the new Indonesian republic.
What filmmaking! Dockside, a pan of Indonesian faces composes an image of Indonesian determination and solidarity. From this, though, a wider anti-colonial brotherhood emerges. The “blacking” of Dutch ships succeeds except in one instance: the Dutch sneak in a ship by manning it with an Indian crew. A call-out to the Indians from a Federation spokesperson interrupts Peter Finch’s voiceover narration: “Brothers: Indonesia’s fight is your fight. . . Stop engines!” India’s soul, as well as possibly Indonesia’s fate, hangs in the balance. The crew proceeds but considers the plea; we see their troubled faces onboard. They stop the ship.
The film ends brilliantly and optimistically. Across a bridge and toward the camera, Indonesians and supporters from other nations, including China, march in solidarity. All the idle ships, we are told, lie below. Voiceover necessarily covers this complex instance of political causality; but our not seeing the ships actually enhances the impact.
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