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Red flags, pretty words and a resolute plan: Dogma 19. Turn a feature film like a documentary.

Following Denmark, the Netherlands now has its own Dogma manifesto. A modest but also ambitious statement from two young filmmakers who present a surprisingly clear plan after a season full of noise and concerns about Dutch film. Whether it is a pebble or a big pebble in the pond remains to be seen. In any case, they are going to do something, they announced at the Netherlands Film Festival Conference.

With this event full of talks and panels, the Festival closed its days for professionals on Tuesday. Improving the quality and visibility of Dutch film, that's what it should be about. The signals are on red, but at the introduction I fear for a moment that it will remain just fine words. 'Fresh look', 'creativity', 'different perspectives', 'idiosyncratic' - it's easy to say.

New language

Fortunately, it does not stop there. There is a philosophical lecture on freedom from fear and fear of freedom by psychiatrist Damiaan Denys. Cabaret artist Micha Wertheim takes a delightful hit with a retrospective of his illustrious show Somewhere else. A perfect example of breaking rules. "If I had known everything I would never have started it."

Also of interest is the presentation of the multimedia project (book, exhibition, VR, documentary) launched by documentary maker Maartje Nevejan If You Are Not There, Where Are You on absence epilepsy. Those involved tell how together they sought a new language for this elusive phenomenon of consciousness.

Actress Jacqueline Blom makes a firm plea for the Netherlands to finally start a purposeful 50/50 initiative for the male/female ratio in our media industry. These are a few that stand out to me, and of course there is much more I have to pass up.

Cow by the horns

Thomas van der Gronde (left) and Dennis Alink

Then it's the turn of Dennis Alink and Thomas van der Gronde, makers of acclaimed documentaries, including Unknown Bread (2016) and this year Freek (curiously not selected for the NFF). I'd like to single out their plan because it takes the cow (or one of the cows) by the horns so freshly and without ado or delay.

This, succinctly put, is their equally simple and unorthodox thinking: To make feature films requires a lot of money, time and complicated production. But what if it were to tackle it like a documentary?

"We see several red flags," they state by way of introduction to their presentation. "Visits to Dutch film are falling, reviews are not keeping up, and the Filmmakersenquete showed that 87% of the participants think Dutch feature films are mediocre to poor. About the documentary, however, people are satisfied."

Dogma 19

When these results came out earlier this year at the Filmmaker symposium were presented there was Danish filmmaker Rumle Hammerich, who saw similarities with the Danish situation 25 years ago. Audiences did not want to see Danish films and makers and others felt frustrated. The big wheel of Danish film was standing still. A new, small wheel was needed to get the big one moving again. That small wheel, that was Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg with the manifesto of the later famous movement Dogma 95.

With this example in mind, Alink and Van der Gronde now present Dutch Dogma 19, with the main aim of putting the maker back at the head of his own creation (instead of obediently following the wishes of financiers). The duo will put this into practice with their first feature film. "If necessary, we will film it with our phone and edit it on our laptop," they say.

How to do it

These are the six rules of Dogma 19:

Rule 1 - Take it or leave it. Or in other words, the film plan is submitted to a fund only once. In case of rejection, do not rewrite and resubmit. After approval, the maker is further given a free hand. A good film means taking risks.

Rule 2 - A small crew like a documentary. Think director, camera, sound and producer. This gives enormous flexibility.

Rule 3 - Turning on location. No prettification.

Rule 4 - No written-out dialogues. From the filmmakers' survey, there were many complaints from actors about poor writing. What the 'characters' in a documentary say is always true. So involve the actors in the plan as early as possible, and look for actors who are close to their roles.

Rule 5 - A recording may be rotated a maximum of four times. And if you turn shot/counter-shot so twice. That evokes fertile tension and spontaneity. In fact, the first shot has to hit!

Rule 6 - Less money, more time. That gives you the space to discard material. Writing is deleting, it is often said. So why not apply that to film.

Obstinate

What does this benefit the film industry, is a question from one audience member.

"Suppose you have 1 million," Alink calculates. It's the budget of a normal small feature film. "From that, you can then make four or five Dogma films. Then they don't all have to succeed. There is room as a filmmaker to go for a spin, to try things out. Break out of the circle!"

As for their own feature film: Alink and Van der Gronde do plan to talk to some smaller funds, but have no intention of making concessions. "We are fairly obstinate," they say.

Authenticity

When I speak to the pair after their session, Dennis Alink immediately lets me know that he is looking forward to it.

"When we started our plan for a feature film a year ago, we still thought we would do it the traditional way. But then you still write with the judgement of a fund in the back of your mind. Now that we no longer do that, it provides a great sense of authenticity."

"It will be a coming-of-age story about three boys who come to Amsterdam from Twente and have to rediscover themselves. Sexuality and masculinity are the themes. It's about our generation, a generation of young people and that's a generation that people from, say, the Film Fund don't know about."

They don't want to mention a budget yet; they are thinking of approaching some smaller funds. Because they produce themselves, to remain as independent as possible, they cannot approach the Film Fund.

"We are going to make our film anyway." By which they do not mean that all Dutch films should be made for a trifle from now on. "You can't expect people to work for nothing."

Change

But they are convinced that the Dutch film world is ready for change. "When I came to the Dutch Film Festival ten years ago, it was mouth-watering. Now it's much less so." "The outliers can now be counted on one hand," adds Van der Gronde.

"Creators are no longer at the helm. When you know that sometimes a project can be stopped at any moment, do you still fall in love with it?"

"The pragmatists who are willing to make concessions win, difficult people don't. Would Gerard Reve have written his books if he had had to submit them to a committee each time? Then there would never have been that donkey."

Asked if their ideas also apply to big audience films, they state, "Authenticity is something everyone recognises. And the Danish film Jagten by Thomas Vinterberg also attracted nearly 200,000 visitors here anyway."

"You shouldn't underestimate the public."

Good to know Good to know
Dennis Alink and Thomas van der Gronde have their offices in Kunst- en Cultuurcentrum Cinetol, Amsterdam. Makers who see something in Dogma 19 are welcome to drop in there.

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Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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