The semi-autobiographical account of a European plantation manager on Sumatra during Dutch colonial rule becomes a starting point for reflections on the structure of the plantation itself. An essay about local tobacco and rubber cultivation, the construction of skin colour as a social category and the "tropic fever” which rises slowly but inexorably, edited from archive material dating from 1890 to 1930.
Very few films have made use of the extensive material shot by the colonists in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. Those who took up the task, like “Mother Dao” or recently “They Call Me Babu”, did so from a Dutch perspective. “Tropic Fever” is the first feature-length film from Indonesia that appropriates that stock, using photos, documentary silent film footage, home movies and feature films as well as development plans from the archives of the former colonial power, along with the report of a Hungarian who managed a plantation on Sumatra in the 1920s. Mahardika Yudha, Robin Hartanto Honggare and Perdana Roswaldy impressively demonstrate how forests and swamps turned into rigidly organised agricultural areas and how the plantation and its structure became the foundation of the colonial project as such. Suddenly the assumption that “tropic fever” arises from the heat seems doubtful.