Dogme 95: Understanding the Radical Film Movement

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The Revolutionary Film Movement – Dogme 95

Revolutions change history. History is filled with year-long revolutions some of which were pretty brutal as well. When the word movement is heard, we get images of social rebellion, something to do with politics, freedom or probably self-expression? Right?

It’s hard to believe that a revolutionary film movement exists which would have a set of some very strict and rigid rules. That is the basis of the Dogme 95 Film Movement.

Dogme 95 was an influential and a controversial film movement which gave some really food films as a result of The Celebration (Festen) and Idioterne.

To get a complete understanding of how a film movement like Dogme 95 came to life, it is important to know the history and the political events which took place in the early 1990s.

Because of the ending of the Cold War as well as the downfall of the Soviet Union, there came about a very quick progression of globalization, democracy as well as capitalism on a global scale.

These events were the binding forces that reunited the world and relaxed the drifts and clashes between the countries. Barriers came down, and film ideas and genres were put forward and established for migration across borders.

The advancement in technologies like growing personal computers, the internet and the techniques used in filmmaking leading to the digital era were a great help in transporting ideas as well as films around the globe.

Cinema reached at an uncertain point in its history in the year 1995 because digital film technology threatened it. By mentioning digital technology, it was implied that the cost of film production, exhibition and distribution are lessened, and the production and distributions systems are quickened.

This meant that the non-Hollywood filmmakers could compete with Hollywood in regards to making films and delivering them to their audiences. In such environment came as a rescue action of some sort. Big budgeted movies of Hollywood were gaining a lot of hype and fame. Von Trier and Vinterberg wanted to prove a point by showing that budgets do not define quality.

A short documentary on Lars Von Trier and Dogme ’95.

It was in early 1995 that Lars von Trier made a call to Thomas Vinterberg inviting him to start a film revolution with him. And then according to legend, in 45-minutes these two directors manifested the which they always called in capital letters THE VOW OF CHASTITY which was a ten-point set of rules called the Dogme 95 Manifesto. Dogme is the Danish word for dogma.

Top 10 Dogme 95 Movies of All Time

These ten points were rules created so that the filmmaking industry could follow the foundation of the traditional ingredients of a story, acting, theme without the usage of extremely elaborate special effects or any technology.

In a way an attempt to get back power for the director as an artist against the rules of the studio. These two were later joined by some fellow Danish directors as well which formed the Dogme 95 collective or the Dogme Brethren.

Officially announced on March 22, 1995, at the Le Cinéma Vers Son Deuxième Siècle in Paris, the Dogme Film Movement was brought to attention to the elite class of the cinema’s world who had come together to celebrate the event of motion pictures’ first century. The other purpose was also to ponder over the current not-so-certain situation of the commercial cinema.

The way it has been heard, the story goes somehow like this that Lars von Trier was to give a speech about the future of the film industry, but instead he baffled the audience and alarming them by bombardment of red pamphlets that voiced his Dogme 95 movement.

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In response to the extensive criticism objections that followed, both Trier and Vinterberg stated that all the wanted and intended to do was the establishment of a new extreme. Their aim was to balance the dynamics as much as possible in this business of staggeringly high budgets.

And since then, 108 films have been considered of Dogme worth. The first 31 of these receiving certifications of acceptance and approval.

Quite similar to Dogme 95, there were other movements like Italian Neorealism as well as French New Wave. Although had certain political consequences where the post-WWII Italian filmmakers, as well as the post-Trente Glorieuses French filmmakers, were sharp, Dogme 95 filmmakers were more intelligent.

While the Italian and French filmmakers welcomed creative freedom with open arms and embraced it, the film movement Dogme 95, jotted down their manifesto and imposed a ten rule set which they proudly called “VOW OF CHASTITY”.

The aim with which Dogme 95 was put forward by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, was for the purification of the filmmaking process. It was to cleanse the whole procedure of filmmaking by refusing expensive special effects, post-production changes as well as other gimmicks.

The emphasis was put on the purity forces and factors the filmmakers were to focus on like the actual story and the performances of the actors.

Dogma 95- The rules

Listed are the ten rules which the Dogme film had to follow:

  1. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
  2. Genre movies are not acceptable.
  3. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
  4. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
  5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
  6. The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
  7. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
  8. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)
  9. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
  10. The director must not be credited.

The question that arises is why would anyone want to do that? Why the need for such rules? And in what way the first filmmakers settled upon which rules were set to deliver the needed effect?

Dogme 95 Movement

In the June of 2002, both of the creators of the Doge 95 film movement declared that it was officially dead apparently as it was beginning to form a genre which was never the intention of forming the ten-rule manifesto. Though you could still fill a form and send t someone and get yourself added to the list of the Dogme 95 films, the real true Dogme 95 films were those initial 31 films certified.

The year 2005 was the year the Dogme 95 ended after the founders agreed that the CHASTITY VOW was creating formulaic films thought the initial results and effects that it created cannot be denied.

In some instances, giving yourself the full liberty is actually holding your creativity back with countless chances. If you hold it in a box, it is bound to break free somehow.

The ten-rules mentioned above have been broken and side-stepped from the first Dogme film to be produced. That is shocking right? For example, Vinterberg has actually admitted it himself by confessing that he had covered the window during the scene of a specific scene in The Celebration (Festen).

Not only this, he also admitted to having brought a prop onto the set so that he could use “special lighting” which was against the rules of the film movement, Dogme 95.

Vinterberg was not the only one who failed to conform to the rules he together with Trier had put together to purify the filmmaking. Trier is guilty of using background music in the film The Idiots. Another film of Korine Julien Donkey-Boy featured two scenes which had non-diegetic music as well as numerous shots which were not shot by a handheld camera, hidden cameras were used and also a non-diegetic prop.

Idioterne/Idioten/The Idiots – Making of documentary

Lars von Trier however praised the lapses of the movie while giving an interview which was released on Epidemic DVD.

Since the year 2002 and the 31st film that was approved by the Dogme 95 movement, a filmmaker is not required to have his work and efforts verified by the original board anymore so that it can be identified as a Dogme95 work.

The founding brothers, Dogme Brethren have initiated something new. They have begun their efforts on experimental projects and have themselves become of a skeptical attitude regarding the later common understanding and interpretation of the Manifesto as a genre or a brand. But the movement officially has met its end by breaking up in the year 2005.


If you liked Dogme 95: Understanding the Radical Film Movement take a listen to:
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