Danish director Susanne Bier is president of the jury for its Venice Virtual Reality section. Over the past three decades, she’s received widespread acclaim for projects ranging from the globe-trotting 2016 miniseries adaptation of John le Carre’s “The Night Manager,” which earned her an Emmy, to dark family dramas such as 2007’s “Things We Lost in the Fire” and 2010’s “In a Better World,” the latter of which won the Oscar for best foreign language film. But she’s never worked in an “immersive” medium, be it virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR).
Why do you think Venice chose you for the jury?
I guess I’m a traditional narrative filmmaker, but I come out of a more innovative cinema. At times, I thought I was sitting somewhere in between being considered way too mainstream and way too arthouse. So I’m very honored, but not entirely surprised [to be chosen]. I think I come with a very strong sense of storytelling, and with an ability to evaluate strong storytelling, so that’s going to be where I put my mark on the jury. But I think it’s a two-way thing of also ending up being somehow changed by the experience.
Your first VR experience was two years ago?
It seems that every single person, the first time they experience it, they’re reaching out, thinking, am I really in this world or is this somewhere else? And I had that exact same experience. It was mind blowing.
Why did you want to be part of the Venice VR experience?
I jumped at the opportunity to be president of the jury because I feel VR is one of the most innovative areas of not just cinema, but art in general, and its potential for extreme identification makes it an intriguing vehicle for everything from documentaries to horror.
What about the hardware involved?
VR headsets can be cumbersome, but there was a time when a cell phone weighed several pounds, and now it’s basically an extension of our fingers.
What do you hope to get out of the VR Venice experience?
Every time I push myself into a new environment, it has a definite impact on my next project, but whether it’s recognizable for other people, I don’t know. As a filmmaker, it’s very important to keep pushing myself to be confronted by things that are not entirely within my own comfort zone. And virtual reality is exactly that thing.
Is there a possibility she might make a companion VR experience for her next film, Netflix’s “Bird Box” starring Sandra Bullock?
Let’s have that conversation after I’ve been in Venice and I’ll answer that!