Tuesday, August 31, 2004

What are Dogme Films?

In 1995, a group Danish film directors, led by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vintenberg, formed a collective to inspire filmmakers to throw off “certain tendencies” prevalent in contemporary—mainly Hollywood—films. Called DOGME 95, the group’s fiery manifesto asserts that films have been “cosmeticised to death”, or to put it plainly, films have become all image and no substance. They write: “The ‘supreme’ task of the decadent filmmaker is to fool the audience…Is that what the ‘100 years’ [of cinema] have brought us?…As never before, the superficial action and superficial movie are receiving all the praise.”

To counteract this superficiality, Dogme filmmakers must swear to follow a set of rules, called the “Vow of Chastity”, that requires, among other things: that films be shot only on location (no sets), that the camera must be hand-held, and use of camera filters and other kinds of “optical work” are forbidden. Furthermore, the director must “refrain from personal taste”, with his or her only desire being to “force the truth out of characters and settings.” The Dogme director does not sign his or her name to a film. Films made under “the Vow” receive certification that they are true Dogme films.

Approximately 35 films from 12 different countries, including the United States, have been certified as Dogme films. In June 2002, however, the “Dogmesecretariat” overseeing the manifesto closed. In making this decision, the group writes: “The manifesto…has almost grown into a genre formula, which was never the intention. As a consequence, we will stop our part of mediation and interpretation on how to make Dogme films…In case you do desire to make a Dogme film, you are free to do so…the Vow of Chastity is an artistic way of expressing a certain cinematic point of view—it is meant to inspire filmmakers all over the world.”

To read the manifesto and its Vow of Chastity, to see a list of certified Dogme films, and to learn more about the movement, check out their official website. If you think Dogme 95 sounds dry and humorless, just check out their highly irreverent logo!

I will review the Dogme film ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS (2000) in my next Weekly Film Rentals post.


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