In 1995, the world of cinema witnessed the birth of Dogma 95, a filmmaking movement started by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. This avant-garde manifesto aimed to define filmmaking by rejecting the use of then-revolutionary technologies in favor of cherishing the filmmaking craft of physically creating that which the celluloid can capture. Today, as the world of cinema continues to evolve, I introduce Dogma 23, a nod to the past with a vision firmly rooted in the future.
Dogma 23 will be a gallery of film, a traditional physical space where film projects will present themselves to their potential partners, financiers and audiences. Each exhibition will focus on a single film project in any phase of its life, be it in development looking for principal artists and (co)producers, in distribution and looking to develop the audience and market for a successful run or, most common probably, everything in between.
As a self-thought creative producer with almost fifteen years of professional experience, I’ve journeyed through the intricate labyrinth of the film industry, often at my own expense, striving to bring artists’ visions to life. Yet, the inception of Dogma 23 feels like a long-overdue step. The relentless financial instability and the dynamic nature of creative producers’ work often keeps one on their toes as we constantly scout potential projects which must match several conflicting factors, which themselves are not as easy as that may seem, to be distinguished from legit creative challenges. Simultaneously, artists are mostly left to their own devices to present themselves, their stories and the necessity of their vision, which is even more so inherently problematic. Dogma 23, in its essence, is a product of my life-long aspiration to solve for these predicaments by creating a public space with a 24/7 open door policy for storytellers, producers, investors and audiences who wish to intersect and match. I find my conclusion, that we have reached an era when such a thing is possible, to be a deeply rational one.
For some context around my thinking, let’s examine a moment that happened 4 years before Dogma 95 came to be, a moment chosen by Eleanor Coppola to close her debut film “Hearts of darkness” with these words from her husband:
To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And suddenly, one day, some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever, and it will really become an art form. That’s my opinion.
When examining history in such light, one might focus on the fascinating passion for cinema and artists exhibited by forward-thinkers Coppola or Vinterberg, or perhaps on the most impressive courage of movements like American Zoetrope and Dogma 95, or maybe on the numerous contradictions shared and in conflict among them. However, what captures my attention the most is the most astounding amount of optimism and positive outlook for the future and which actually came to pass at that. These days I’m also writing an essay about the end of Motovun film festival and in the story of its inception, I’m explaining how it was poised for success since the beginning for many reasons, one being the global optimism of the nineties that appears as unparalleled by memory of any living person. In anticipation of the new millennia, with many global geopolitical questions coming to an (abrupt) end, and technology relatively well keeping up with what art and science had foreseen throughout the century, the nineties are indeed regarded by many as a unique, optimistic decade. With a similar mix of fascination, fear and past experiences as artists have today, artists of the nineties had a strong urge to, both at the same time, adopt and protect themselves from new technologies which were changing the world in real time before their eyes.
Mix that state of mind with the artistic courage (and dont-give-a-fuck-for-status-quo stance) of aforementioned people in film history, and you get that incredible wave of creativity that we could see in the late nineties, and that we can see today. History has shown us what such creativity is able to produce — from world-changing art pieces like “Catcher in the rhye” or “The Truman show”, to social movements like that of Dr. King or the LGBT movement in the 2000s, to achievements in science such as the transistor or e-mail. My question is, which examples will I be able to add to that list in 30 years when talking about twenties and thirties of the 21st century.
I hope to find that answer within Dogma 23.
Born in ’86. I myself happened to be at the exact turnover point, growing up with both the Xs and the Zs in parallel, starting my professional journey by staking out three different film stock companies in Zagreb in a true “beg, borrow & steal” fashion and today being on the forefront of GPT and smart contract technologies. I witnessed and experienced first-hand as the audience, as an artist and as a producer, not to mention an early adopter, the “old world” and the new, and in all honesty not only that I would never, but I see zero reason to choose between one and the other.
Some observers have had enough of the “digital revolution” already after 10 or 12 years of it, and felt safe to proclaim new technologies either don’t change the landscape at all — or that they change it entirely. On the other hand, millions and even billions of eloquent internet users always knew that a post-bubble phase is one that’ll show how the changed landscape will truly look like (because we’ve witnessed the same cycle too many times already). Come 2023 and Tom Cruise “saved Hollywod’s ass”, a 3-hour 70mm-shot drama is in serious box-office competition with a pre-determined billion-dollar machine that is “Barbie”, and YouTube channels with millions of subscribers and true-8K workflows, of which most filmmakers can only dream of, are yesterday news. Should the first question be if Nolan would have made the first IMAX feature film ever without the 8K/120FPS podcasts in effect, or should it be how did it take almost 30 years for Trier’s and Vinterberg’s manifesto to actually come to life in full scale? Who was right, who was wrong?
If I may say so bluntly — I don’t really care. The flow of history and evolution I myself witnessed is for me proof enough that no true artist exists, if their audience doesn’t either, and vice versa. You may call it the Schrodinger effect or just magic, I myself prefer to call it “love and math”, the essence of all existence and the only truths living beings could ever call the beginning or the end of anything. Art is what motivates science and science is that which propels art to reach different people at different places, both literally and metaphorically. These questions become quite a bit more awkward when you start playing the what-if game: Would Kurosawa if born in the nineties be working in the film industry today, or as a “digital creator”? Would John Cassavetes? How about Dante? What would be the format of choice for Socrates?
In one of the director’s roundtables by Variety, a classic question comes up — “Who do you make your films for?”. Ridley and a few others quickly jump the gun to state they always just make it for themselves, but then the amazing visionary that is Iñárritu gently proposes a hypothetical — what if we were the last person on Earth? The answer being fairly obvious, he answers it himself — “I probably wouldn’t be making movies just for myself.”. I personally strongly believe in that kind of humbleness and wide-angle perspective of the universe.
Indeed, certain paradigms went (to) far in polarizing creative industries, much due to a traditional lack of global hegemony. As if we (the global art industry and community) hadn’t had it hard enough, the film vs. digital and similar debates were exactly what the doctor ordered? The funniest thing about it is that from Trier to Spielberg, from Carax to Fincher and from Nolan or Tarantino to Soderbergh, you could always hear the same — these are tools that are at our disposal to make movies. Few had the time to stop and listen to this wisdom that was repeated over and over again for the last 12 years or so, since the digital workflow replaced that of the celluloid, and today we embarked on the next chapter, into an arm-wrestle with the sophisticated technologies of large languages, which despite repeated pleads by the leading experts in all relevant fields that it’s as far from any kind of “AI” as it could be, is proposed as a threat, rather than a magnificent empowering tool. Similarly, Just like sound or color in cinema and digital distribution were, smart contracts are as much pushed as they are not understood.
I myself will certainly never forget the pitches I was giving around Zagreb in 2008, about 2 years before Kickstarter came to be and at least 4 before “the Netflix boom” — I wanted to shoot 365 extra short films and distribute them daily over a year trough a mobile app for a subscription of 36.5 euros, 10 cents a film. Despite good reception, the problem was always “obvious”: Who would pay to watch videos on their phone?
We don’t have to keep repeating the same mistakes. Adopting the contemporary does not imply renouncing the traditional.
Some bubbles burst and some change shape and size. The bubble of cinema has never really shown signs of bursting, and with the latest technological advancements its allure only contrasts even clearer. Technologies like GPT are underlining the importance of organic creativity and the unique fingerprint of an artist, while principles of decentralization and transparency empower individuals to exchange information and money in a safe and affordable way. Together, these technologies allow for true democratization of art industries, which in turn allows anyone who really wants to tell stories, to reach their audience however niche, or wide for that matter, that audience is.
Today, we can create freely, we can reach our audiences unobtrusively and we have the tools to connect the two into an artwork worth experiencing and preserving (which coincidentally makes it also a viable commercial product — ta-da!). If we consider altruism as the base responsibility of every human being, we are then even more so motivated to accept these opportunities, knowing that by doing so we will allow for even wider global empowerment of individuals to create art and share it with those in the world it is meant to touch.
Dogma 23 Manifesto
- Cinema is an inherently altruistic art-form which empowers, enlightens and unifies people.
- Without an audience, cinema does not exist.
- Films must be conceived organically and crafted systematically.
- Celluloid and theatre are cinema’s native mediums.
- Producer and director can only be credited once. All crew must be credited alphabetically.
- Prefer the infinite untold stories over franchises.
- Equality and transparency are the foundation of every film production.
- Cinema is an invention without a future.
Dogma 23 will be a physical gallery space in Zagreb, exhibiting film projects in all stages, helping them to develop their creative and financial backbone in context of the contemporary audience and distribution channels. I believe that such a deeply traditional, physical space, combined with the cutting edge art production and social paradigms, will be a hub for all those who wish to build their film projects and develop audiences, disregarding the status quo not as a protest or even a rule, but just as much as needed to have a practical method of producing the best possible version of their film using all tools at their disposal.
However, I believe Dogma 23 can be more than just a gallery space of film — I hope for it to be a movement into the next golden era of art and global enlightenment.