The 20th anniversary of Dogme 95 calls for a ‘Festen’!

On 13th March 1995, Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg released their infamous manifesto of film that sparked an artistic movement and altered the foreign cinema genre.

Twenty years ago today in Copenhagen, filmmaking duo Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg challenged the idea of contemporary and mainstream cinema by creating their own set of rules; also known as the “Vows of Chastity”. Trier, Vinterberg and their Dogme members would vow to create films driven by realism; inspired by the 1954 essay by François Truffaut published in Cahiers du Cinema.

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Their Dogme 95 manifesto was made up of ten rules:

            1.         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).

            2.         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.)

            3.         The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.

            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.

As well as promoting their own avant-garde regime, the filmmakers agreed to “regard the instant as more important than the whole” rather than being led by their own “personal taste” and signature styles of storytelling.

The Dogme 95 films launched with a Danish double-bill released in the same year: Vinterberg’s dysfunctional family drama Festen (1998), starring Ulrich Thomsen and The Legacy‘s Trine Dyrholm, together with Lars von Trier’s controversial black comedy The Idiots (1998).

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Other notable films from Dogme were Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Dogme #3: Mifune’s Last Song (1999), Kristian Levring’s Dogme #4: The King Is Alive (2000), Lone Scherfig’s Dogme #12: Italian for Beginners (2000) and Susanne Bier’s Dogme #28: Open Hearts (2002). Other global entries from international directors to employ these techniques included: Jean-Marc Barr’s Dogme #5: Lovers (1999) from France, Harmony Korine’s Dogme #6: Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) from the USA, and José Luis Márques’ F*ckland (2000) from Argentina.

Nevertheless, rules were made to be broken and it proved difficult to tick all of the boxes with assurance. In 2005, the Dogme 95 creators dismantled and went on to pursue other projects continuing to make waves in the international film industry.

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Lars von Trier went on to create a series of controversial yet renowned films including Dogville (2003), Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011) and Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II (2013). Vinterberg’s credits also include Dear Wendy (2005) and the helmed Danish drama The Hunt (2012), starring Mads Mikkelsen.

The Dogme 95 movement may have reached a standstill, however, the legacy left behind continues to contribute to the arts becoming a landmark in contemporary film history.