This indefatigable voyager, born in Amsterdam in 1938, was one of the great contemporary documentary filmmakers. He began taking photographs at the age of twelve and published his first photography book, entitled We are 17, at the age of just seventeen. The following year he went to Paris to study at the IDHEC film school. Throughout his life, he believed that filmmaking and photography were inseparably linked.
A witness to the events of our time, van der Keuken ceaselessly turned his critical eye to the troubles of the modern world, while also researching and developing his own approach to formal and aesthetic questions. Denouncing forced exiles and famines, van der Keuken’s camera was constantly alert to the calamities of our planet, and he lived for many years in the midst of the political struggles of the third world. His wife, Nosh van der Lely, was his closest collaborator throughout his life, and recorded the soundtracks of his films.
One of his most emblematic film is Flat Jungle (1978), in which he filmed the Waddenzee, an area in the wetlands of northern Holland, showing how it was turned upside down by economic, technical and industrial developments which had tragic consequences for the flora and fauna as well as the region’s population. A premonitory film about the evils that disfigure the earth, Amsterdam, Global Village (1996), is a fresco of daily life dealing with the universal destiny of war victims, the uprooted and those abandoned by society.
Johan van der Keuken suffered from cancer at the end of his life, and chose to treat his illness in his last works, which include The Long Holiday. He died on 7 January 2001.