In 1995, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg wrote a manifesto in opposition to the excesses of overproduction in filmmaking. In it, the two Danish directors formulated ten specific rules designed to force filmmakers to focus on the narrative and the actors’ performances instead of on unnecessary and expensive gimmicks.
These rules, known as The Vow of Chastity became the foundation of the Dogme 95 movement:
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- Optical work and filters are forbidden.
- The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
- Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
- Genre movies are not acceptable.
- The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
- The director must not be credited
It’s easy to read this list and wonder how anyone could possibly produce a feature-length film under such restrictive terms. But in the last fifteen years, over sixty films have been made that adhere to The Vow of Chastity. Many of these motion pictures are actually quite good. In fact, the very first Dogme 95 film released, The Celebration, managed to win a Special Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
I think the most interesting thing about the Dogme 95 movement is that it demonstrates how effective self-imposed limitations can be. They can help us keep focus on what is really important in our work by freeing us from limitless possibilities, which are often just distractions.
So next time you’re feeling creatively stuck or overwhelmed, consider reining yourself in to help you keep your priorities in order.