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Dogme 95: The Pros and Cons of this Intriguing Genre

In March 1995, the whole world of cinema gathered in Paris to celebrate nothing less than the ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF CINEMA! On this historic day, friends and filmmakers Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier announced that they, together, had formulated the idea for a new film genre: “Dogme 95.” It celebrates and cherishes the ideals of simplistic independent cinema; films made on a small budget with very little production values. Vinterberg and Trier had also wrote together the Dogme 95 “Vow of Chastity,” a list of rules which filmmakers would have to follow to the letter for their film to qualify as Dogme. The Vow is as follows, per Wikipedia:

  1. Filming 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.
  2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic.
  3. The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.
  4. The film must be in colour. 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).
  5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
  6. The film must not contain superficial action (murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
  7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (that is to say that the film takes place here and now).
  8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
  9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
  10. The director must not be credited.

So, they be the rules. They sound simple enough, looking at them, but for the average filmmaker they can be incredibly hard to follow. Some of them seem completely pointless and unnecessary, but Vinterberg and Trier stand by them. Each have only made one film per the Dogme rules, and have both confessed to having broken a rule in at least one manner. The movement no longer exists, and was broken up after having released about 30 films under the Manifesto.

So… why?

Vinterberg and Trier created the movement to preserve the idea of cinema as a whole, how it should be done, and to turn its back on fancy special effects and convoluted plot twists. The Dogme movies are rather simple, and often quite original.

The Pros

  • Costs and investment worries – a thing of the past. You can make your movie easily and independently, without worrying about big budget squeezes, financial problems and business control. You have the freedom to make your movie your way.
  • To know you’re part of a special, new, inventive genre. Having the knowledge that you’ve made a movie in a way that few others have, and that it’s been personally checked and verified to be Dogme by Vinterberg, Trier and co. (NB: Since Dogme 95 have split up, you can no longer have your movie approved to be Dogme.)
  • For those cinematic purists (a large group of which I’m proud to be a self-applicated member), you know you’re not tarnishing the great cinematic ideals of filmmaking: a knowledge which makes making a movie surprisingly easier.

The Cons

  • You have a lot more restrictions if you’re going to stick to the vow, and not everyone (including myself) is happy with all the rules. It can be annoying following these rules, and even a tiny slip up can be breaking the vow.
  • The Director (i.e., you) can’t be credited. This is making a movie and getting zip credit for it. Some might consider it a good thing, but for many it’s pouring all your effort in hard labour into a film that doesn’t even have your name on it. And what’s more – it has everyone else’s.
  • You have to film hand-held. This means for you and your cinematographer, there’s gonna be a lot more hard work. You have to get into the nooks and crannies of your on-location area and film the way you want to, keeping an eye out for continuity errors and any other small slipups that can happen when filming hurriedly.
  • You must make the movie in 35mm film. Why? I may not be old fashioned, and I understand that they’re just trying to maintain the purity of original filmmaking with original cameras, but I see no bad thing about using digital. It works just as well (just ask David Lynch), and makes the editing process that much easier.

It seems like there are more cons, than pros, and it’s up to you to decide what your opinion of the genre is. I’m personally in favour of it, but I think the Vow of Chastity (or Manifesto), could use a bit of tweaking and changes. I think rules 6, 9 and 10, more than others, could be omitted. I don’t see the point in them, and find them unnecessary. If the manifesto was included without those, and I were a budding film director, I would seriously consider making a movie via Dogme. But until then, I find that while it’s a fantastic idea, it is undoubtedly flawed, in one way at least. If you’re going to check out a Dogme 95 movie, I highly recommend Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (English: The Celebration). It is the first official movie made in Dogme, and probably the best (though I’ve only seen two). Even if you’re not a fan of Dogme 95 and aren’t interested in it at all, I’d still recommend seeing Vinterberg’s film. It’s brilliant.

What do you think of Dogme 95? Do you think Vinterberg and Trier were on to something? Do you like the films of Thomas Vinterberg or Lars von Trier? What Dogme films have you seen? Did you enjoy them?

Let me know your thoughts on these questions and/or just general comments on the subject by leaving a comment below.

Thanks for reading.