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Clara Pafort-Overduin (Utrecht) & Jaap Boter (Amsterdam)

The influence of compartmentalization in a society on film distribution and success: a case study on The Netherlands 1934-1936

Films are particular examples of symbolic products. Their stories, characters and setting relate to particular social groups and issues, reflecting or even challenging current status quo in a society.  As such, while some films might appeal to a broad audience, other films with more particular content likely have their appeal limited to particular segments in a society.

Such patterns would be particularly evident in strongly compartmentalized societies such as The Netherlands in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  During this period, the Dutch society consisted of four major religious and ideological movements, each with their own social infrastructure, such as trade unions, schools, media and governance. In general, social interactions of members were supposed to be confined their counterparts and only at the highest levels of society would representatives of these movements meet and work together. Though additional research has shown that this compartmentalization was not always as strict as it was supposed to be, in general it is considered a strong explanatory model for the way Dutch society was organized during this period.  On the other hand, as suggested by Dibbets, film exhibiters might try to stay away as much as possible from any ideological connotation, as this would limit financial success. 

Recent data collection projects on the distribution of films (i.e., what film played where and when) allow us to investigate such issues on a wider scale. As the different movements in Dutch society were also located in particular areas of the country, any influence of compartmentalization on the distribution of films in this country during this period would likely be marked by strong spatial effects.