The Danish film director Susanne Bier on February 27th 2011 claimed her first Oscar at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Bier's 2010 production "In a Better World" is a drama about the destruction of the idyll and the personal choice between revenge and pacifism and stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen.
Susanne Bier is the third Danish director to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Previous Danish winners count Gabriel Axel's "Babette's Feast" in 1988 and Bille August's "Pelle the Conqueror" in 1989.
Prior to the Academy Awards, we set up an interview with Susanne Bier to ask what winning an Oscar would mean to her, whether she prefers to work in Hollywood or in Europe, what her next project is and more.
Interview with Susanne Bier
By Richard Steed, journalist
How important is it for this Danish film and the Danish film industry to be recognised at the Golden Globes and now the Oscars?
It’s very important that we actually manage with a language that is only spoken by 5.5 million people to have a strong voice that we can communicate. It’s very important that a little country can tell stories that can have impact and transcend our tiny language.
What was it like to win a Golden Globe?
I had been talking to a few journalists prior to the Golden Globes, and they had said according to the bookmakers I was not the favourite to win. So I can kind of thought it didn’t have a chance of winning. Not because the film didn’t deserve it, but there were some obvious formal things, which would make my chances very weak, like the film had not opened, there were no big stars and some of the other films had done really well with American audiences. I just thought the other films were stronger contenders so I guess I bought into that whole way of thinking.
When they announced ‘In a Better World’, I almost didn’t hear it because I was convinced it was not me, so the people I was sitting at the table were shouting ‘it’s you it’s you’. Now I had written a speech, as you’re supposed to write a speech but when I walked up and stood there at the podium I was paralysed I couldn’t see the words. I was obviously very happy and very proud but for some reason in my head I was at a party celebrating other people.
What attracted you to the main themes of the film - revenge and forgiveness?
Personally I think it’s extremely interesting and extremely timely the whole notion of revenge as its now part of our everyday vocabulary. Ten years ago, it wasn’t used with the same ease but now it’s been trapped in us subconsciously as a natural notion yet for most people It is still not natural, but because it’s in the newspapers and in the media, it’s something that we are confronted with it all the time. Though I think for most people it’s a still a frightening and alien notion.
I think this movie in an entertaining and gripping manner addresses the notion and its implications; it also understands the desire for revenge and understands the desire to put back some justice in the world, but also clearly suggests you’re not going to get the satisfaction that you are after. Personally if you ask me, forgiveness is a much better way forward.
What are you hoping the audience will take away from watching your film?
I don’t have a particular point of view that I want the audience to take with them. The whole point of the film is for the audience to think about things. The movie is asking the question you have just asked. The movie very consciously and very clearly does not give an answer and I don’t know the right answer. It’s not my job as a filmmaker to push my opinion down your throat, my role is to raise questions and hope the audience will address them themselves
How difficult is it for a European art house film to reach an American audience?
There is no doubt and it will always be like this but because it’s a Danish language film it will be seen as an art house film. But that doesn’t mean an art house film cannot be a success and winning a Golden Globe obviously helps. We all as an audience are only going to spend our money when there is conviction that we will enjoy it and a Golden Globe gives it a stamp of authority. The other thing that sells a film is big stars, but with this Danish movie there aren’t any international stars so instead the seal of approval came from the Golden Globes and now the Oscars. So for an art house audience who doesn’t know much about this film it will help tremendously.
You’ve also worked in Hollywood as well as making European movies have you a preference?
No, I can definitely see myself doing both. I feel in terms of Hollywood, I am in that privileged position of having a constant conversation and having really interesting projects but not being totally dependent on it. Personally it’s very exciting and a great place to be. I mean I would never, not make Danish movies, I like making movies in Danish for a Danish audience and I’m not about to break that pattern.
Do you think Danish cinema is currently experiencing a renaissance, a new kind of confidence?
I think there have been a few years where the Danish confidence has been lacking. After the Dogma period of the 90’s there has definitely been a quiet period. Though recently there have been some home grown Danish film successes. But it’s a difficult question to answer right now, ask me again in a couple of years.
How easy is it to get funding in Denmark for a film?
With a good script you will get funding. It may not be the first time round that you will get the money, but with a good script and a realistic budget you will be fine. Obviously a first time director will find it more difficult because he or she probably hasn’t got a track record like a more seasoned Danish director but a good script with a low budget and you’re probably going to get it.
What is your next film project?
I am working on a really cute romantic comedy with my writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen, something that isn’t going to deal with all the big topics. It’s again funded by Zentropa.
What’s it like being a woman director in Hollywood?
I never feel like I’ve been treated in a different way. In Hollywood there are quite a lot of important female executives but there is a still a lack of female directors. It is sad that in society in general there is a lack of females in important positions in all industries. I think it still has to do with many young women having to choose between career and kids. I have two kids and luckily I have never had to make that choice and never wanted to make that choice.
Did you ever visualise that you would get an Oscar nomination?
It’s a funny thing; I have never been career-minded thinking this is where I want my career to go. I have always been someone whose got hooked on projects and hooked on stories. That this is a story I need to make which I want to tell. So I have never really thought about the bigger picture but obviously I appreciate what I have been given.
What would winning an Oscar mean to you personally?
It would mean a lot, it’s the biggest thing you can get as a film-maker, it would mean a lot to the film and it would just be fantastic. I’m a pretty happy person so my approach is I’m going to have fun whatever happens but of course it would be amazing.