The 10 rules of “Dogme 95”, the Danish film movement

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Dogma 95 was an independent film movement created by Danish directors Lars von Trier, famous for Dogville and Melancholy, and Thomas Vinterberg, famous for The hunt and another round, both featuring Mads Mikkelsen, in an attempt to rebel against the ever-growing commercial systems of cinema. Founded in 1995, the two independent filmmakers documented a manifesto highlighting ten rules identified as the Vows of Chasity. These rules would effectively reduce the filmmaking process to its bare bones to squeeze every inch of creativity out of its limited resources.



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The first film to receive the Dogme 95 certificate of authenticity would be that of Vinterberg FeastWhere Celebration, a dark comedy that follows a family reuniting for the patriarch’s birthday party to plunge into drunken confessions about their family’s troubled past. The raw, analog style of cinema can be shocking and uncomfortably real, but this style of cinema has lingered in the works of Vinterberg and Trier, as they often feature performance-based films that deal with dark themes of everyday life. .

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Rule #1, it must be shot in place

“Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is needed for the story, a location must be chosen where that prop is to be found).” Essentially, this rule would deter filmmakers from being able to manipulate the environment, but rather from working with it and depicting its setting in an appropriate form.

As strict as these many rules may seem, even the filmmakers have admitted to some transgressions. Vinterberg said a prop may have made its way onto set once or twice during filming, and a window was slightly modified to affect the lighting during filming. Feast. Still, the one or two fragrant violations committed by these rebellious filmmakers is nothing short of a big-budget studio production.

Rule #2, sound must be recorded naturally

“Sound should never be produced outside of images or vice versa. (Music should not be used unless it occurs where the scene is shot).” A similar term is “diegetic sound”. For example, if a scene features a stereo playing a song in the movie, that music coming from the stereo is diegetic instead of just playing over the movie. However, Dogma 95 goes one step further, in which the stereo must play and be recorded during filming.

This is another instance of music being used in a Dogma 95 film, but for the vast majority it’s just sounds and dialogue captured on set; that’s it. This rule also overrides sound effects, the art of creating sound effects like footsteps or clashing swords in post-production. All sounds should be recorded on set and in the same shot they were recorded in, cut from the speaker during editing, and this dialogue should stop.

Rule #3, the camera must be hand-held

“The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or mobility achievable by hand is allowed.” Yes, that means no tripods, carts or cranes; the camera must be hand-held. DV cameras were often used, lightweight and easy to hold, like your parents’ old home video camera they took on vacation or to your class recital. Hang upside down, run alongside your actors; anything you could do with a camera in your hand was allowed.

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Along with this limited mobility and ground camera movements, the rules also did not allow the use of stunts. No wire work or complex transitions or transfers from drone cameras to vehicles like audiences have come to see these days in action movies. What happened was the shaky camera trait where hand movement, especially during altercations or emotional outbursts, would be best represented by sporadic camera movement.

Rule #4, special lighting is not acceptable

“The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for the exposure, the scene must be cut or a single lamp must be attached to the camera) .” Lighting is an essential part of any film production, so with simple DV cameras, poor lighting was a common trait among Dogme 95 films, enhancing the home movie aesthetic. However, it also forced the filmmakers to work through the issues, often to creative lengths.

Sometimes movies were even limited to using a candle, bending the rules around props, to find a light source. However, lighting seems to be the most lenient rule in Dogma 95, being the only one with a stipulation; only when needed are you entitled to a single camera-mounted light. Honor system!

Rule #5, optical work is prohibited

“Optical work and filters are prohibited.” Camera filters are a simple way to change the color tone and expression of the environment. Colored filters placed on a camera’s lens can help to resemble different environments, such as warm tones for dry environments and cool tones for cold. Not allowing filters or color grading is another way to avoid altering on-premises environments.

Since in-camera tricks and lens filters were banned, the film was also not allowed to use animations or digital effects. For the innovative opening credits, the film title was often written in the film environment and shot on camera rather than digitally placed on the picture. This would lead to interesting titles as abstract art forms or just hand drawn lettering captured on camera.


Rule #6, Superficial Action Cannot Occur

“The film must not contain superficial action. (Murder, weapons, etc. must not occur).” The term superficial is described as a lack of understanding or importance of the seriousness of something. So, indeed, a simple action like manifesto listings is a way to disapprove of such foolish actions. It feels like a clear rebellion against cinema’s glorification of violence.

Violence was always depicted in the Dogma 95 films, but it stemmed from emotional confrontations between adults who argued. However, excessive violence was prohibited, and the tension and intensity was channeled into high dialogue and stressful situations. Sexual and drunken interactions were also used to spice things up, but the filmmakers couldn’t glorify or romanticize the violent actions.


Rule #7, it must take place here and now

“Temporal and geographical alienation is prohibited. (That is, the film takes place here and now).” No period pieces, no flashbacks or glimpses into the future; the film must take place during its creation. The first film of So Dogme 95 Feast took place in 1998, the same year of its production. This rule seems to want to anchor the audience and the filmmakers in the presence and focus on the here and now.

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This rule also seemed to ground the story in reality as it depicts the present. Unlike so many fantasy stories that sweep audiences away for 2 hours of escapism, Raw Dogma 95 films keep you tightly grounded in reality, often unfortunate reality. This rule also seems to play hand in hand with the following rule regarding film style.


Rule #8, no genre movies

“Genre films are not acceptable.” Genres, a stylistic or thematic category of filmmaking (think sci-fi, fantasy, gangster movies, etc.), weren’t allowed in Dogma 95 to focus on practical here-and-now stories. No way to lose your head in the clouds.

Avoiding genres can also be a way to avoid the familiar tropes that come with them. Films from Trier and Vinteberg often intertwine with daily life, and with the previous rule here and now, a genre film can transport your audience away from their daily life and portray similar hero arcs. Dogma 95 seemed to want to keep you here, keep you thinking about day-to-day issues, and not run away to a long-lost time or an idealistic future.

Rule #9, you must shoot academy style

“The format of the film must be in Academy 35mm.” Established by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that classic Academy ratio of 1.375:1, more easily recognizable as a 4:3 aspect ratio, was used in the silent film era. This effectively gives the film ratio a boxy look, a trait seen before widescreen formats became prevalent in the 1950s.

This rule surely seems to go back to the good old days of classic cinema, perhaps an homage to simpler times. Dogme 95, in essence, is a way to push cinema to its extremes by stripping its process to its core. So using the classic Academy ratio format is a way to get back to basics.

Rule #10, The director is uncredited

“Director should not be credited.” Dismiss Spielberg and Scorsese; the public does not need to know your name! As budgets skyrocketed and pockets filled in the film landscape, the members of Dogma 95 aimed to cut the filmmaking process to the extreme and emphasize a lean budget. Acting without needing recognition can be a way to fight pride and ego and focus on creative work, not your loot.

Dogme 95 was active from 1995 to 2005, and upon its conclusion expanded beyond Denmark to pockets of independent filmmaking around the world. The radicals of Dogma 95 rebelled against the powerful studio system, administering their raw, realistic films to the masses with no regard for the “standards” to which they were held. While Dogma 95 ended for all intents and purposes, it made a strong impression on film history with its focus on making radical, low-budget films and harnessing all the creativity possible.

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