Dogme 95

Mette Hjort*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Since it was first announced in Paris in 1995 Dogme 95 has evolved through a number of distinct, yet overlapping phases (Hjort 2003a). During the first of these phases, lasting from 1995 to 1998, when the first Dogme film, Vinterberg’s Festen (The Celebration) (1998), won the Jury’s Special Prize at Cannes, Dogme was often dismissed as a rather silly, attention-grabbing stunt. During this initial phase Dogme was also plagued by controversy having to do with the Danish Film Institute’s decision not to provide block funding for the first four Dogme films, all of which were to be made by the brethren themselves. Dogme moved into a second phase in 1998, when The Celebration and von Trier’s Idioterne (The Idiots) (1998) clearly established that abidance by the Vow of Chastity’s rules could result in genuinely innovative and worthwhile cinematic works. French actor-turned-director Jean-Marc Barr released Dogme 5: Lovers in 1999, and this film marks the beginnings of a third phase involving an increasingly global circulation and appropriation of the Dogme concept in film milieus. This third phase overlaps with a fourth that sees the extension of Dogme’s manifesto-and rule-based thinking to other areas of creative expression - to dance, computer game design, and literature, for example. During this period Lars von Trier seemed intent on sustaining the Dogme program for he himself extended it to a new area, that of documentary filmmaking, with the announcement of a new “Dogumentary” manifesto and a “documentarist code” consisting of nine rules. The point of these rules, the manifesto indicated, was to oppose “the documentary and television reality which has become more and more manipulated and filtered by camera people, editors and directors” (C. Christensen 2003: 186-7). Six films by Scandinavian directors have been made according to this code. The most well-known of these is Michael Klint’s award-winning film entitled Get a Life (2004), a rather selfabsorbed and in many other ways objectionable portrait of young Nigerian children suffering from a disease known as noma. By 2001, a fifth phase was clearly evident, and this one is characterized by the transformation of the term “Dogme” into a virtue term - often signifying opposition to oppressive realities and a related commitment to democratic practice - that could be mobilized in virtually any context. Hong Kong filmmaker Vincent Chui Wan-shun’s Youyou chouchou de zou le (Leaving in Sorrow) (2001) can be seen as the start of a sixth phase, in which filmmakers consciously opt to align themselves with Dogme, but without feeling any obligation to follow all of the rules or any desire to seek formal Dogme certification. By 2002, in short, Dogme had become a well-established brand, a useful platform, especially for emerging directors. Dogme’s reception in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) brings to light yet another phase, one characterized by Dogme’s transformation into something resembling a general philosophy of filmmaking. Ning Ying, for example, regards Dogme’s normative claims about what film is and should be as having been a decisive influence during the making of the last film in her Beijing trilogy, Xiari nuanyangyang (I Love Beijing) (2001) (roundtable discussion, Szeto 2006). Ning’s claim, possibly debatable, is that had she chosen to make I Love Beijing as a fully fledged Dogme film, the result would have been an underground film without the potential, as a result, to open the eyes of Chinese audiences to the impact of globalization and urbanization on contemporary Chinese life in a post-Mao era. Refusing such marginalization, the only choice, she insists, was to make the film in accordance with the established methods of state-sanctioned filmmaking. In the PRC, then, a perceived tension between Dogme’s dicta and the requirements of state legitimacy has worked to transform Dogme from a rule-governed method and brand into an inspirational philosophy of filmmaking, in which concepts of truth, authenticity, realism, and contemporaneity figure centrally. This brief sketch of Dogme’s transformations over the years would not be complete without reference to the shifts that have occurred with regard to the issue of Dogme certification. At the outset, a given film’s status as a bona fide Dogme film hinged on a successfully completed vetting process. Aspiring Dogme filmmakers were, in short, expected to submit their films to the Dogme Secretariat in Copenhagen (consisting of the brethren), who determined whether the rules had been observed and whether a Dogme certificate could be legitimately granted. This vetting practice was, however, abandoned when the brethren, after assessing and certifying Harmony Korine’s film Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), realized just how difficult it was to ascertain rule abidance: To the best of our knowledge [they claimed on their website], Julien Donkey-Boy does, indeed, observe the Dogme criteria to a satisfactory extent. . . Considering the fact that there are numerous problems connected with our review of aspiring Dogme films, we have decided on a change of practice when issuing Dogme certificates. In the future the director himself is solemnly to declare his adherence to the Dogme 95 Manifesto. (Cited in Kelly 2000: 33) Vetting was thus replaced with a practice of solemn declarations of intent. On 20 March 2005 the brethren went one step further in a “Farewell [to Dogme] Manifesto,” in which they announced that from Dogme’s tenth anniversary onward the certificate would be available online, its use by various directors being entirely a matter of individual conscience, requiring neither vetting nor declarations of either intended or actual adherence to the rules. There has been much discussion among film scholars and critics over the years of Dogme’s antecedents. Von Trier’s polemical gesture, it is often claimed, clearly recalls earlier moments in the history of film. Dziga Vertov’s Kino Pravda is typically cited in this connection, as are Italian neorealism, Jean-Luc Godard’s Groupe Dziga Vertov, and even the Oberhausen manifesto. For Scott MacKenzie, whose main interest is to determine the specificity and especially the unusual efficacy of Dogme’s manifesto, Lindsay Anderson’s Free Cinema movement provides an important reference point: “Like Dogma, Free Cinema functioned both as a new way to make films and as a publicity stunt [emphasis added] in order to garner recognition within the public sphere” (MacKenzie 2003: 51). Focusing on the “hand-held shooting style” that has come to be associated with Dogme, Murray Smith, by contrast, draws attention to “New American Cinema directors like John Cassavetes and Shirley Clarke” who pioneered this style in the area of fiction filmmaking some forty years before Dogme (Smith 2003: 114). For Peter Schepelern (2003) and Jack Stevenson (2003), these same figures are also an important part of Dogme’s prehistory. While Danish scholars acknowledge the relevance of all the sources just mentioned, they invariably emphasize a quite different trajectory of ideas, one centered on Lars von Trier himself and connecting different periods in his cinematic production. As Schepelern remarks, “Throughout his career, von Trier has set special rules for each production. The rules were usually a kind of production code used on the set and would typically establish some technical rules or aesthetic line to be followed” (Schepelern 2003: 58-9; see also O. Christensen 2004). The central concept of Dogme 95, which is that of creativity under constraint, is thus not one that Lars von Trier first adopted in connection with his cinematic “rescue action,” but one that has informed his work as a director from the very beginning. In the context of von Trier’s oeuvre, what is new about Dogme is the director’s decision to share the rules with viewers in a metacultural Vow that was also an invitation to collectivism and a key factor in Dogme’s globalization (Hjort 2003a). Inasmuch as the concept of creativity under constraint lies at the heart of Dogme 95, this cinematic initiative directly contacts key areas of philosophical concern.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film
EditorsPaisley Livingston, Carl Plantinga
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9780203879320
ISBN (Print)9780415771665, 9780415493949
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2008

Publication series

NameRoutledge Philosophy Companions

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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