The manifesto that laid movies bare

With Dogme 95, four Danish directors reduced film to its powerful best. And more than a decade on, they’re still winning awards. By Kaleem Aftab

The 2008 European Film Awards took place in Copenhagen for the first time, making it the perfect venue for the co-founders of the Dogme 95 manifesto, directors Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen and Kristian Levring, to take home the much-coveted achievement in world cinema award.

It's an amazing feat for a movement that started with Von Trier, bored of being Europe's most acclaimed young director and the cumbersome nature of the film industry, summoning Thomas Vinterberg, a gifted twenty-something graduate of the Danish Film School, to his office to write a set of movie-making rules that would reduce the cost and size of most film sets to a minimum. Vinterberg reported that they just thought about everything they hated about movie-making and simply banned it. They christened these 10 rules "The Vow of Chastity" and announced them at a Paris conference in March 1995, by which time fellow Danish film-makers Levring, a commercials director, and the veteran Kragh-Jacobsen had been invited to take their vows and become a part of the original Dogme "brotherhood".

The rules ranged from those aimed at reducing cost – shooting must be done on location, optical work and filters forbidden, sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa – to ones about aesthetics – the camera must be hand-held, no period pieces, the film must not contain superficial action, and the format must be academy 35mm. There were even rules stating that genre movies were forbidden and, believe it or not, that the director must not be credited.

These rules were all written in pompous language and the manifesto took a swipe at the French New Wave, decrying the "auteur concept" for being "bourgeois romanticism from the very start and thereby ... false." It was a manifesto that despised the Hollywood way of making films as much as the French New Wave and called for a "democratic cinema" where everyone could make films. But, most of all, it was a movement in keeping with Von Trier's philosophy – don't take yourself too seriously. And then, after the Paris announcement, all talk of manifestos went quiet for three years.

It was at Cannes in 1998 that the movement first imprinted itself on to the international consciousness. The two original members of the movement had Dogme 95 films premiering at the festival, Dogme #1: Festen and Dogme #2: The Idiots. In the first sign that the rules weren't being strictly adhered to, it was already revealed that Festen was going to be Vinterberg's debut, and that The Idiots had been directed by Von Trier. However, what stood the movement in good stead, more than anything in the manifesto, was that it turned out that the two movies were really rather good.

Festen, in particular, garnered much praise. The story centres on a 60th birthday party in an aristocratic Danish family, where it is revealed that the father celebrating his birthday had sexually abused his children. Much to the amazement of the accuser, his oldest son, the revelation seems to be ignored by the rest of the partygoers. The Idiots is typical agitprop from Von Trier: a group of people gather in a house in Copenhagen to break all rules and bring out the inner idiot in themselves. The genius of this story was that it was a metaphor for the Dogme 95 movement.

The manifesto was a tremendous marketing gimmick. It appealed to critics who had fantastic films from a small European country to write about, and fired the imagination of film-makers, who saw a way of making affordable films that would be taken seriously by critics and major film festivals. All of a sudden, Denmark was not only on the film map, it was at the centre of it.

Amid all the acclaim, not much was said about the biggest innovation of the movement, which would ultimately prove to be Dogme 95's lasting legacy – the use of small hand-held digital cameras. The digital cameras allowed them to shoot cheaply, quickly and in lighting conditions that would have been impossible using traditional methods. They got around their rule on film format by transferring their digital stock on to a 35mm print before showing the film. In a move steeped with Catholic symbolism, they also had a process whereby, after making a film, a director could make a confession and admit to his film-making sins; Vinterberg, for example, "confessed" to the banal measure of covering a window during one scene.

Before Dogme 95, only Harmony Korine, with his 1997 film Gummo, had successfully shot a breakout movie on a consumer digital camera, and it did not take long for the American director to join the movement with the film Dogme #6: Julien Donkey-Boy. It was at this stage that the movement seemed to run away with itself. The brotherhood set up a website where film-makers could ask for their films to be officially certified. It was a time-consuming process that lasted until 2002 when, after 31 films had been given the Dogme 95 certificate, the brotherhood declared that directors could simply certify their own films. It had long since become clear that the original directors had grown bored of the movement.

It only took a couple of bad films for Dogme 95 to lose some of its shine. Soon after, Vinterberg and Von Trier were no longer pretending that the movement was anything but a well-timed gimmick. Vinterberg found it difficult to cope with the overnight success of Festen when he was feted at film festivals around the world as the Dogme 95 poster boy and mocked his own fatigue in his film All About Love, in which Sean Penn plays a man who lives on a plane, never touching down. Vinterberg has never been able to match the success of his first film and is both the movement's biggest success and casualty.

Von Trier found other ways to amuse himself, and was soon celebrating films made in the spirit of Dogme 95, where film-makers would create their own rules. This playfulness is most apparent on The Five Obstructions, which he co-directed with Jorgen Leth, in which different rules are devised to make filming more difficult.

The rules and the need for them have become increasingly obsolete as digital technology has improved, but the speedy rise and fall of Dogme 95 should not take anything away from the brilliant manner in which these four film-makers, for a couple of years at least, reminded the world that cinema comes in many different forms and guises – and that they make films in Denmark, too.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor