Global Cinema Spotlight: Dogme 95

A movie poster shows a white family with emotionless expressions dressed in black-tie attire posing for a photo. There are seven adults, six of whom are posed around an old man in an armchair at the from. The background is plain white and the title of the film, "FESTEN", is printed at the top.
Festen (1998) by ecranlarge.com

We’re back with another global cinema spotlight! This time we’re heading to Denmark with Dogme 95. This movement radically redefined cinema with a back-to-basics philosophy. Its stripped-down style and commitment to naturalism made for some of the most memorable films in recent Danish history. The Dogme 95 Collective was founded by directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in 1995 and disbanded in 2005. “Dogme” is the Danish word for dogma, and “95” refers to the year of creation.


The movement was an attempt to create a niche of film free of Hollywood-esque technological gimmicks like special effects. Vinterberg and von Trier aimed to return to the basic ethos of filmmaking; story, theme, and acting. Essentially, it was a return to the pure foundation of film without the excess flab it often comes with. Hence the creation of a dogme (dogma) of strict rules for filmmakers.

The theory was introduced to the public at Le cinéma vers son deuxième siècle in Paris in March 1995. This was a conference celebrating 20th Century film. Lars von Trier was one of the directors invited to speak at this event. Before his speech, pamphlets that described the new Dogme 95 movement were distributed to the audience of filmmakers. The pamphlets were a manifesto co-written by Vinterberg and von Trier. They included a list of rules called “Vows of Chastity” that directors had to adhere to.

The rules included requirements that shooting must be done on location, no props can be brought in from outside location, no music can be added in post-production, the cameras must be handheld, and directors must not be credited, to name a few. Below is an excerpt from the last paragraph of the vows;

“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 than the whole. My supreme goal is to enforce 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.


It’s no surprise that the movement was named a dogma, considering its almost religious fundamentalism. Films had to be formally submitted for consideration to be classed as Dogme 95. A few of the films that made the cut didn’t meet all the criteria. In such cases, the directors had to first “confess” the ways they broke their vows. This amusing ritual reflects the fact that although the audio-visual theatrics of recent cinema may sometimes be unnecessary, they are often necessary for good storytelling.

The formalised process created a very rare occurrence in the global filmscape; this cinema niche had clearly defined lines and every film in its ranks is documented. To be exact, there are 35 Dogme films. Although the directors were not permitted to attach their names to the films, all 35 are listed with details on their official website. Other than its original founders, other notable directors of the movement include Kristian Levring, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen and Juan Pinzás.


As a whole, the films of Dogme 95 had mixed reviews. However, there were a few critically acclaimed gems. Consider Festen (1998), a tragic farce in which a birthday party reveals a dysfunctional family’s struggles with abuse, death, and incest; and Italiensk for Begyndere (2000), an absurdist romantic comedy in which a group of loners facing various life crises band together in an Italian language class. In the long run, Dogme 95 was a breath of fresh air in an industry that seemed to be straying from the basics of film.

Even after the dissolution of the collective, other directors like directors Jan Dunn and Brilliante Mendoza have used many of the founding Dogme principles. From Scandinavia to South Korea, the influence of the Dogme filmmaking style can be seen globally. Although the strictness of their manifesto is unattainable on a large scale, it can help all of us reflect on the importance of the traditional values of film.

Also Read: Global Cinema Spotlight: Cinema Novo

Also Read: Global Cinema Spotlight: Lollywood

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Cynthia Kinyera

Cynthia Kinyera is a Communications Specialist and Freelance Writer specialising in lifestyle and wellness. She uses her easy-flowing prose and digital marketing skills to craft engaging high-converting content. Find out more about her work at cynthiawrites.com.