Though Anthony Dod Mantle has shot three of the four Dogma 95 movies to be released thus far, he says that his work shouldn't necessarily be judged by their example. "It's ironic to me that the films that have attracted the most attention to me in my 10 features are Dogma films," says Dod Mantle, cinematographer of The Celebration, julien donkey-boy, and Mifune, which Sony Pictures Classics released in the US in February. "I love my celluloid, and I love my precision and control. But it was a good time for Dogma, and I happened to be in touch with a group of people who wanted to reflect on filmmaking by making these films."
In 1998, the British-born, but Denmark-schooled, Dod Mantle got together with director Thomas Vinterberg to shoot The Celebration, the first work shot under the Dogma 95 mandate, established by directors Lars von Trier and Vinterberg to get back to the essentials of moviemaking by eschewing artificial elements such as added props, sets, and lighting.
Whereas The Celebration and US director Harmony Korine's julien donkey-boy were both shot on digital video, Mifune, directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, was shot on 16mm film. Camerawork is all handheld, and the lights allowed are those available on location. "Without thinking about it, people have this feeling that available light almost means no light," says Dod Mantle. "It just means looking at what you have, and realizing that the crew and the shooting process are more mobile. I still have a lot of control; I'm a fascist about locations, for example. I hunt for the correct place, indoors or outdoors, with light to suit the mood."
The main location for Mifune, which tells the story of a citified man who returns home after his father's death and reestablishes a bond with his mentally handicapped brother, was an abandoned farm on Denmark's southernmost island. "I could draw a curtain, and I could open a curtain," says the DP of the shoot (the title refers to a game in which the city brother imitates the Japanese actor's samurai characters). "I considered using the available sockets but changing the color temperature, because I had a problem with tungsten light and daylight coming in the windows. But I decided that it would be like social realism to have daylight and let the tungsten go warm. So I used the practicals, but sometimes moved them around.
"I also decided to create a situation where I could work in low lighting conditions and increase the contrast," Dod Mantle continues. "I shot on two or three Kodak stocks, and pushed them all two stops. So on the interior and night work, I was using the 250ASA daylight stock, and pushing to around 1,000ASA. It gets faster and grainier, but it also gets more punchy, with more contrast and texture; it breathes."
Dod Mantle's next film is an epic project for Vinterberg that will most certainly not be a Dogma 95 work. "I've probably been there and done that now," says the DP. "But I've been thinking about how we can balance the two extremes--overdesigned, overlit, beautiful films with huge budgets, and Dogma--how to keep the energy of the actors, which is generally there for only a short time, and still work with lights."