[note: apologies for the Russian voice-over in some of the sample clips]

Creativity springs from restriction. When there is an obstruction, and a need to get around it, the human mind engages ingenuity to help us.

One of the most amazing visual demonstrations of this fact is found in the 2003 film, The Five Obstructions. It is billed as a documentary, but really it is a film-making duel between Lars von Trier and an old film-school mentor of his, Jorgen Leth.

In 1967, Leth made a seminal film, called The Perfect Human:

In The Five Obstructions, Von Trier challenges Leth to remake this film five times, each time with a different set of obstructions. The actualy full-length documentary, is full of themes around film ethics and the duel between the two directors, but in the end, it is also a monumental lesson in creativity.

The obstructions for the first challenge came about quite arbitrarily but in the end they boiled down to:

  1. Make the film in Cuba
  2. Every cut has to be 12 frames (half a second) long
At first, upon receiving his obstructions, Leth rebels calling Von Trier a “madman”. But then, inspiration strikes, and he starts working with the obstructions to create something quite special:

The second film had to take place in the worst part of Mumbai, with Leth himself having to be the male lead, dining on fine food and wine in front of thousands of famished, poverty-stricken Indians. And worst, Von Trier instructs him that the poor were not to be seen in the film.

The result:

Von Trier decides to not “approve” the film as you can see bystanders through the screen. Leth refuses flat-out to return to Mumbai so Von Trier punishes Leth in the third obstruction with: NO OBSTRUCTION

The result, a failure:

We can see the pattern emerging. Obstruction creates inspiration, genius. No obstruction, creates chaos and mindless drifting.

There is the fourth and fifth obstruction, but I’d really like you to watch the entire film to get the full scale of The Five Obstructions.

If we can manufacture obstruction, we can manufacture creativity.

In advertising we have a saying: “The freedom of a tight brief”

May you have plenty of obstruction and many great ideas to get around them.


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