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Dogumentary – Dogme Rules for Documentary Films

By August 9, 2010Documentary

Making the WORLD a SMALLER place

No matter WHERE you’re from

No matter how OLD you are

No matter what GOD you believe in

We are all MEMBERS of this PLANET.

As some of you might know, in the beginning of 2010 I graduated from the University of Media (Hochschule der Medien) in Stuttgart, Germany with a Bachelor of Engineering in Audio-Visual Media.  For my bachelor thesis I shot an observational documentary in Canada in summer 2009 with the title: „Making the world a smaller place“.

It was going to be a personal interest story about a gay couple that believes that it doesn’t matter where you are from, what language you speak or how old you are, we all have something in common – a spirit, goals and dreams. They live in a small village in Gros Morne National Park in rural Newfoundland and they host strangers from all over the world on their couch in their living room. For free. What they do is called “CouchSurfing“.


It is not easy to say in words, what CouchSurfing is about. It’s a community of people who love to travel, but rather than staying in anonymous hotels, they prefer to stay with locals and get a real taste of the different cultures and places they go. During my research for the documentary I decided to conduct some interviews with CouchSurfers that I have met in my over 2 years of surfing experience.

Sorry about the sometime bad audio and not so perfect lighting, but this video was not meant to be entertaining, but helping me to figure out what the essence of the CouchSurfing spirit is.


The film is not just your ordinary documentary. The idea for this bachelor thesis developed from my interest in Danish Cinema. I am fascinated by the many good films that came out of such a small country with a very small audience that is able to understand the Danish language. One of their biggest successes was definitely the Dogme95 movement against the current developmenst in Hollywood. My other great passion is documentary film and therefore I thought one day, why not combine the two by following dogmatic rules during a documentary production.Dogumentarism.
Meanwhile I googled the words “Dogme” and “Documentary” and that is what came up: Dogumentarism. Lars von Trier already realized my idea and created a whole movement in 2002.

“Dogumentary” was born out of a discussion among a group of Danish documentary filmmakers who felt that too many elements of fiction filmmaking were encroaching on the documentary form, and that a more modest, stylistic approach might bring them closer to the truth. Film director Lars von Trier imposed a series of restrictions on the filmmakers, similar to Dogme95 for fiction films, in his mission to bring documentary film back to its core.


Documentary gets the Dogme Treatment

  1. All the locations in the film must be revealed. (This is to be done by text being inserted in the image. This constitutes an exception of rule number 5. All the text must be legible.)
  2. The beginning of the film must outline the goals and ideas of the director. (This must be shown to the film’s participants and technicians before filming begins.)
  3. The end of the film must consist of two minutes of free speaking time by the film’s ”victim”. This “victim” alone shall advise regarding the content and must approve this part of the finished film. If there is no opposition by any of the collaborators, there will be no “victim” or “victims”. To explain this, there will be text inserted at the end of the film.
  4. All clips must be marked with 6-12 frames black. (Unless they are a clip in real time, that is a direct clip in a multi-camera filming situation.)
  5. Manipulation of the sound and/or images must not take place. Filtering, creative lighting and/or optical effects are strictly forbidden.
  6. The sound must never be produced exclusive of the original filming or vice versa. That is, extra soundtracks like music or dialogue must not be mixed in later.
  7. Reconstruction of the concept or the directing of the actors is not acceptable. Adding elements as with scenography are forbidden.
  8. All use of hidden cameras is forbidden.
  9. Archived images or footage that has been produced for other programs must never be used.

Lars von Trier, Zentropa Real, May 2001

“Making the WORLD a SMALLER place”

The making of the film was in the end a study of observational documentaries for me. I found out how different people react to a camera, that it is really hard to be just the “fly on the wall” and have your characters completely ignore you. Also I learned to cope with restrictions and how to creatively interpret these rules for my advantages. I will not ever shoot another “Dogumentary”, but I definitely know now what the most important quality of a documentary filmmaker should be: Respect the people that you are filming!

And my bachelor thesis explores this approach to the authenticity of documentary films by reviewing the birth of the Dogumentary movement and the Dogumentary Code, including the nine rules and their principles.

Furthermore I examined “Dogumentary” in a Dogumentarism Experiment, where I write about the making of my own Dogumentary film, my experiences with the rules and how they made the film more or less authentic. Finally the thesis is going to point out how big the impact of the eight Dogumentaries was that were produced in Scandinavia and the UK to find out if Dogumentarism failed and explain what filmmakers need to know to make their films more authentic.

Do you want to see and read more?

It is now 6 months ago that I graduated and that I finished my bachelor thesis which was a cooperation between the University of Media in Stuttgart and theRyerson University in Toronto. The DVDs are sent out to all the characters, I had a little screening and moved on to other projects. Nonetheless I think it might be interesting for one or the other filmmaker or film buff that wants to learn more about “Dogumentary”, so here are some links to more information that is available on my website:

  1. If you are interested what conclusions I drew from making a Dogumentary myself and what happened to the Danish Dogumentary Movement, you can download my bachelor thesis here as pdf: “Dogumentary – Dogme Rules for Documentary Films”
  2. And last, but not least you have a chance to actually watch the Dogumentary in full length on my website, but because of legality issues you have to send me an email request first. Then I will send you the link as well as the password. So if you are interested in seeing the film, send me an email at “jan at jankeck.com” with the subject “Dogumentary Password”.
  3. If you do read my thesis or watch my film, please leave some feedback in the comment section of this post.

About Jan Keck

I empower entrepreneurs to be real so they can connect with their tribe and make an impact on people and planet.

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