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.

News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower