dogme 95

est. 1995 – 2005

In the mid-1990s, a group of Danish filmmakers, led by the visionary minds of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, embarked on a daring cinematic journey that would disrupt the established norms of filmmaking. This movement, famously known as Dogme 95, emerged as a passionate rebellion against the glossy, high-budget productions that often dominated the industry.

Origins of Dogme 95

The origins of Dogme 95 can be traced to the filmmakers’ dissatisfaction with the state of contemporary cinema in the early 1990s. Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, along with other like-minded directors, wanted to break away from the glossy and formulaic nature of Hollywood and conventional European filmmaking. Influenced by a desire for creative liberation and a return to the fundamentals of storytelling, they formulated the “Dogme 95 Manifesto”, that articulated their vision for a radically different approach to filmmaking. At its core, Dogme 95 aimed to create films that were genuine and free from the artifice of traditional Hollywood productions.

 

The movement drew inspiration from various sources, including the principles of the French New Wave cinema, which also sought to challenge established norms and prioritize personal expression. Additionally, the emergence of digital technology played a role in shaping Dogme 95, offering a more accessible and cost-effective means of filmmaking that aligned with the movement’s emphasis on simplicity.

Dogme 95 - The Celebration (1998) by Thomas Vinterberg
The Celebration (1998) by Thomas Vinterberg

The Dogme 95 Manifesto

Central to the Dogme 95 movement was the “Vow of Chastity“, a set of ten strict rules that filmmakers pledged to follow. Dogme 95 rules were designed to strip away the excesses of modern cinema and emphasize storytelling in its purest form. They are as followers: 

 

1. Shooting Location: The film must be shot on location, no sets are allowed.

2. Natural Lighting: Only natural light sources are permitted for filming.

3. Handheld Cameras: The use of handheld cameras is mandatory to achieve a sense of immediacy and intimacy.

4. Real Sound: The sound must be recorded at the same time as the images are captured, with no additional sound or music added in post-production.

5. No Superficial Action: The film must not contain any superficial action, such as murders, weapons, or contrived plot devices.

6. No Genre Movies: The film must not be part of any established genre.

7. Temporal and Geographical Unity: The story must take place in the here and now, in the actual location where it is filmed.

8. Format: The film must be in color, using standard 35mm film.

9. Director as Author: The director is the sole author of the film and should not be credited.

10. No Special Effects: The film must not contain any special effects or post-production modifications.

Mifune (1999) by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen
Mifune (1999) by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen
The Idiots (1998) by Lars von Trier
The Idiots (1998) by Lars von Trier

Important filmmakers and films

The first official Dogme film, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, “The Celebration” (1998) is a family drama that revolves around a family gathering celebrating the patriarch’s 60th birthday, unveiling deep-seated family secrets and traumas. Shot with handheld cameras, and adhering strictly to Dogme principles, it captures the raw and intense emotions of its characters. Its success established Dogme 95 as a significant force in the cinematic landscape.

 

Next is infamous Lars von Trier, with his film “The Idiots” (1998). The film follows a group of individuals who engage in deliberate acts of idiocy as a form of societal rebellion. It explores themes of conformity, identity and societal norms. The documentary-style approach, natural lighting, and handheld camerawork contribute to its unfiltered and visceral quality. “The Idiots” solidified Lars von Trier’s reputation as a provocateur in cinema.

 

Directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, “Mifune” (1999) is a dark comedy that follows the life of a mentally disabled man after the death of his father. The film explores themes of love, societal expectations and human connection. The film’s success highlighted the versatility of Dogme principles in various genres, proving that the movement could be applied to diverse narratives beyond the intense dramas for which it was initially recognized.

GIF from Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) by Harmony Korine
Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) by Harmony Korine

Legacy and Influence of dogme 95

The movement inspired subsequent movements, and a new generation of filmmakers to reconsider the conventions of filmmaking, promoting a focus on storytelling over technical spectacle. The Dogme 95 Manifesto became a symbol of rebellion against the excesses of mainstream cinema, encouraging a return to the essence of the medium.
 
While it may not have become a dominant force in the film industry, the impact of Dogme 95 remains a testament to the power of simplicity in filmmaking. It challenged the industry’s obsession with spectacle, and returned to the core of what makes cinema compelling. Dogme 95 will forever be remembered as a revolutionary moment in the history of cinema, a bold experiment that reminded us that the essence of storytelling lies in the power of a well-told tale, free from the trappings of artifice.

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.