It began almost a lark. Tired of the routines of the filmmaking process four Danish directors decided to set themselves a challenge. "We talked about all that bored us in filmaking, all that we normally do–and then we forbade it. It was liberating," recalls 29-year-old director Thomas Vinterberg, one of the authors of what’s grandiosely dubbed "Dogma 95."
In a half-hour’s time, the quartet came up with 10 "Vows of Chastity." No artificial lighting, no manipulative musical scores, no historical settings or genre films. Absolutely no guns. Only location shooting and hand-held cameras are permitted. "Dogma 95 desires to purge film, so that once again the inner lives of characters justify the plot," proclaimed the four, who include Vinterberg and Lars van Trier (whose Dogma creation The Idiots opens this spring).
Last fall, the first of the Dogma films burst out of the gate: Vinterberg’s dysfunctional family drama, The Celebration. The vows behind this highly praised film might have been forgotten except for the pains taken by Vinterberg to play the Dogma card. The Celebration opens with an ornate certificate before the credits, certifying its status as a bona fide Dogma 95 film. Vinterberg even submitted a "Confession" about his lapses from the Vows of Chastity. (It’s in this plea for absolution that one catches the self-mocking humor of the endeavor–an essential ingredient that seemed to elude many critics who get stuck on the filmmakers’ gleeful arrogance.)
The lark is now full of Pomp and Circumstance. But what’s important to remember is Dogma 95’s impetus. "We felt the routines and normalcy of filmmaking created laziness, rather than freshness," says Vinterberg. "This is about making a renewal." It’s about undressing filmmaking of its conventions and forcing oneself as a director to think anew. "This has taught me that going all the way, making some sort of risk, is how I want to make films," says Vinterberg. "I’m not sure I’m able to every time. But it has been very inspiring." In that spirit, The Independent asked a number of feature directors to put forth their own Dogmas. All have created work that challenges the tone, narrative structure, or production techniques of conventional cinema. And all, we hope, will inspire others to take the risks they choose.
– Patricia Thomson
DOGMA 95: THE VOW OF CHASTITY
I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by Dogma 95:
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. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place.)
4. The film must be in color. 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 35mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
Furthermore, I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a "work," as I regard the instant as more important that the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.
Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.
Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995
Lars von Trier Thomas Vinterberg*
* Vinterberg wrote the following after completion of The Celebration, the first "Dogma 95" film with a theatrical release:
As one of the Dogma 95 brethren and co-signatory of The Vow of Chastity, I feel moved to confess the following transgressions of the aforesaid Vow during the production of The Celebration. Please note that the film has been approved as a Dogma work, as only one genuine breach of the rules has actually taken place. The rest may be regarded as moral breaches.
• I confess to having made one take with a black drape covering a window. This is not only the addition of a property, but must also be regarded as a kind of lighting arrangement.
• I confess to having knowledge of a pay raise that served as cover for the purchase of Thomas Bo Larsen’s suit for use in the film.
• Similarly, I confess to having knowledge of purchases by Trine Dyrholm and Therese Glahn of the same nature.
• I confess to having set in train the construction of the non-existent hotel reception desk for use in The Celebration. It should be noted that the structure consisted solely of components already present at the location.
• I confess that Christian’s mobile or cellular telephone was not his own. But it was present at the location.
• I confess that in one take, the camera was attached to a microphone boom and thus only partially hand-held.
I hereby declare that the rest of The Celebration was produced in accordance with The Vow of Chastity. Pleading for absolution, I remain
"Dogma 95 seeks to strip cinema naked," explained Thomas Vinterberg when introducing his thoroughly engaging The Celebration at the Toronto International Film Festival.
While I agree that drastic measures, dogmas even, are a fine idea, I think, rather, that cinema needs more clothes, not less. If these particular dogmatic types had their way, what would be left naked would be, presumably, pure drama, actors performing lines unmediated by what I take to be the essential tools of the medium–manipulated light (photographic arts), acting styles ranging from naturalistic to stylized (dramatic arts), sound tracks blending real and foleyed effects, silence and the sounds of instruments and the human voice (musical arts), "dressed" spaces (design), speech (literary arts), and, most important, the experience of shifting rhythms and "times" (especially the glorious flashback and its impossible twin, the flashforward), invoked by the grand shaper of all of these materials: editing (the essential cinematic art).
Take away these celebrations of artifice, as Dogma 95 recommends, and you are left with . . . theater, which I prefer to see on stage, with live actors, in the room, actually there. Cinema, on the other hand, should be fully clothed, in a darkened room where no live actors breathe the still air lit only by the shadowy light on a screen, where one can see and hear a mysterious and suggestive blending of the numerous arts (as in artifice) that is cinema.
Jay Anania is a producer, director, writer, and editor who has worked in film and television for more than 20 years, in forms ranging from documentary to experimental and dramatic.
10 real-life rules of movie making that I have witnessed.
1. Always have a dog or a cat in your movie.
2. Never believe actors/actresses when they say they have "no problem with nudity."
3. Always have an Israeli above the line somewhere to keep everyone scared.
4. Always tell your leads you will fire them if they start having sex with each other.
5. Never have sex with your lead.
6. Always start the film with something quiet so that the projectionist will turn it up, then bust out your really loud stuff.
7. Always have a boring scene around reel 8 (just before the third act) so that people can go take a leak before the exciting finale.
8. Always have a character who is playing a film director explaining to a character who is playing a film critic what to write about the film.
9. Never allow anyone to screen your film unless 4,000 screaming teeny-boppers are mobbing the theater.
10. Always get some really sexy young person to travel everywhere with you telling everyone that you are a genius. People will believe it.
Matthew Harrison is director of the films Spare Me, Rhythm Thief, and Kicked in the Head.
Manifesto for Nondogma
1. Maintain a sense of humor.
2. Seduce public opinion, question everything.
3. Use historical methods and craft as references.
4. Mutate, mutilate, or manipulate genres or formats if necessary, in the service of story enhancement or character development. This includes linear and nonlinear, film and digital technologies.
5. Employ improvisational techniques that engender spontaneous eruptions as an enhanced means toward creating authentic narrative language.
6. In a world environment of compromise, pollution, and chaos, art works can no longer be politically indifferent. Censorship, self censorship, propriety, racism, gender bias, or any type of repression cannot be tolerated.
7. Each frame will be a microcosmic reflection of the construction of the work.
8. Use risk as a creative force towards revitalizing, restoring, and expanding aesthetic constrictions.
9. In order to adapt to unforseen opportunities of chance and vision, all art must remain dogma free.
Lynn Hershman-Leeson has worked for the past 30 years in many media, including photography, site-specific public art, and video. She is credited as being the first artist to create an interactive art videodisk. Her first feature film, Conceiving Ada, will be released by Fox Lorber this spring.
1. The director is the eighth most important person in the making of a film. The ranking is as follows:
?1) The writer
?2) The editor
?3) The casting director
?4) The composer
?5) The cinematographer
?6) The script supervisor
?7) The producer.
The credits should reflect this.
2. Have a reason for making the film. Driving people from their seats with a revolutionary view of hegemony is a reason. "I want to be a director" is not. If you don’t know why you want to make the movie, become a cheese maker. People like cheese.
3. You know what ? I’ve seen naked women before. Let’s move on.
4. When I see the word "handgun" in a script, I reach for the incinerator.
5. Read Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary: A Compendium of Movie Clichés and Stereotypes . . . (Andrews and McMeel, 1994) very carefully. Stop doing everything in it.
6. There is no such thing as realism.
7. Coverage is for stupidheads.
8. Movies made by a committee decision-making process are better movies. Most of the time. I’m pretty sure about this. Let me check with my boss.
9. Take all the establishing shots in a movie. Put them in a pile. Light them on fire. Step away.
10. Everything is gratuitous. I will always be making the greatest movie ever made. Not to be doing so would be a waste of my time and yours, gentle reader. Hence, Treasure Island is currently the greatest movie ever made. That is all.
Scott King, under the auspices of King Pictures, has executive produced three independent films: Shotgun Freeway: Drives thru Lost L.A. (a documentary on the history of Los Angeles with James Ellroy and David Hockney), Star Maps (the feature debut of writer/director Miguel Arteta and a nominee for Best Picture for the Independent Spirit Awards), and Olympia (the feature debut of Robert Byington, which closed this year’s Slamdance film festival and closed this year’s South by Southwest film festival). With Treasure Island, Mr. King’s debut as a writer and cinematographer, Mr. King continues his support of films that might otherwise not be made. Mr. King’s superpower is his ability to guess how well a piece of clothing will fit a woman. He discovered this power during a stint as a retail clerk. He has never guessed wrong.
Thoughts about my current work.
1. It cannot be written other than by its own timetable. The material must be ripe before it can be plucked.
2. The form that the material takes should emerge out of an overall preoccupation that has matured over time, not a desire for effect.
3. The material should illuminate aspects of the world that no longer exist, even while being fully "contemporary."
4. Money concerns should not enter into the film’s planning. The material must dictate the scale and proportion of the undertaking. At the same time, money that comes with strings attached that will dilute the material should be resisted.
5. Filmmaking should take place in corners of the world of which I would like to see more, and the cast be international. Cast must be available for thorough and intensive rehearsal that cannot be reduced.
6. No lens shorter than 40mm should be employed unless there is no other way to make the shot. Further, lenses must be selected for their appropriateness and not for their apparent sharpness.
7. Our negative must be made to function appropriately for the material and our taste; it must be impregnable not only by light but by what cannot be seen. It should print with very few light changes.
8. Video dailies must be resisted. Editing by computer should be used only as a supplemental organizing tool. No less than nine months should be allocated to editing.
9. Stereo sound should be used only if absolutely appropriate.
10. No ugly posters or asinine trailers should be made.
Christopher Münch has written and directed Backwards Looks, Far Corners (in post); Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day (1996) about the Yosemite Valley Railroad which was awarded Best Cinematography at Sundance; and the short feature The Hours and Times (1991), based on the friendship of Brian Epstein and John Lennon. Born in 1962 and self-taught in filmmaking, he was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1994 and received the Swatch Someone to Watch Award in 1996.
Tommy Pallotta, Esther ?Robinson, Lance Weiler, ??Stefan Avalos
1. Distribution, not production, will determine the future of filmmaking.
2. Distribution will become global. Broadband delivery (Internet, satellite…) will provide artists with direct access to their audience.
3. We will end the indentured servitude to film and traditional theatrical distribution.
4. Venues can be anywhere people gather because digital projection will become smaller, brighter, cheaper and better.
5. All formats are accepted; we will not privilege any media over another.
6. We will privilege ingenuity, invention, and vision.
7. The more people who make films, the better. Abundance through technology.
9. We will continually exploit the advances in new and affordable technology as tools for self-expression.
10. All above rules must be broken.
Recent technology has opened a window of opportunity for filmmakers unlike any that has come before. The ability to create without compromise, together with the tools to exhibit one’s work, have given birth to a digital wave of filmmaking.
Eschewing traditional film methods since his feature The High Road, Tommy Pallotta has worked exclusively in video and digital formats and produced the award winning short Roadhead. He is co-founder of the Conduit Digital Festival. • Esther Robinson served as the event co-producer for the Fuel Tour, is co-producing Doug Block’s feature documentary Home Page, and is co-founder of Wavelength Releasing, which presented the first theatrical release of a digital feature film via satellite. • Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos made the digital film The Last Broadcast and are cofounders of Wavelength Releasing, which is in preproduction on three feature projects.
Remember there is no right way to shoot a scene.
When in doubt, simplify.
Welcome to the unforeseen.
Kill your darlings.
Britta Sjogren’s first feature Jo-Jo at the Gate of Lions was honored at numerous festivals. Her short film A Small Domain won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. She is currently shooting a feature called Green and Dimming, casting a second film, and has a third in development. She is a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, teaching feminist film theory.
Dogma: The process & practice
1. I submit to the plasticity of film and the ephemeral nature of video. I will tweak, highlight, diffuse, and distort to the extreme parameters of my chosen film stock.
2. I will test and shoot only with film stocks that demonstrate a sensitivity to dark skin tones.
3. I will not use any effect that I cannot make myself on an Oxberry camera stand.
4. The form of the film must be directly related to the content. I will not impose a single aesthetic arbitrarily on varied subject matter.
5. I vow to shoot only in locations over which I have total control, including painting, removing, and adding walls and windows.
6. I will no longer engage in revisionist filmmaking, i.e., that which is a reaction to current trends that may offend or oppress me. Instead, I vow to tell a personal and critical truth.
7. It’s my world.
8. I respect and honor the craft of filmmaking. A craftsperson may be commissioned to build an outhouse or a cathedral in his backyard. He may build a masterpiece.
9. I vow to be fearless.
10. I vow to be brazen in my agenda to deify black women with every image. Her complete humanity must be pushed to the surface while the story devices and character constructions recede.
11. Make it pretty.
12. Every day, hour, minute, spent laboring on a film is pure bliss. I vow to drink it up.