Gísli Darri Halldórsson, long a known name in animation in Iceland and abroad, learned last month that he is now also an Oscar nominee for directing, for a short animated film called “Yes-People”.
The film, which is only about eight minutes, follows a day in the life of several characters, whose separate routines sync beautifully, even musically. Most striking, the film is nearly completely silent, employing small vocalisations and just one word: “Já”, the Icelandic word for “yes.”
Saying a lot with a little
The concept is reminiscent of the old chestnut that you can have an entire conversation in Icelandic using only the word “jæja,” a word whose meaning changes depending on the tone you use. Gísli Darri sees the parallels in explaining the piece’s inspiration.
“I think the seed of the idea was I was talking to my Irish friends and they were over for New Years, and I was explaining this thing with ‘já’ and it just made them laugh,” he tells us. “I studied languages, so I’m already quite obsessed with these things. I think it’s a bit of a blur, because there were a lot of ideas at the same time. It was like an explosion; it wasn’t just about the languages. It was also about routines and habits.”
“Anyway, it made me think: is it because our vocabulary is so limited, that we are more sensitive to tone?,” Gísli says. “I remember those thoughts going through my head, the fact that compared to French or even English we are very poor in vocabulary. I’m sure anyone learning Icelandic has had this obstacle of ‘how do I say this word in Icelandic?’ and you usually need a sentence to express a word, unless it’s about a type of snow or something.”
The nomination for Best Animated Short Film did catch Gísli Darri by surprise, in a way.
“I was really surprised by the nomination, but I had shown the film by pure chance to a pretty big producer in the UK, before it even went into the festival circuit,” Gísli tells us. “And she pretty much said immediately, ‘You should consider sending this to the Oscars, I think it has a huge chance.’ I didn’t really believe her. I think I’d already had five no’s from film festivals, so I was getting a lot of mixed messages. Also, it was really hard to gauge the success of the film. It later got into really good festivals, but I didn’t see it with an audience. So I was completely clueless. But I did go through the academy process to make it eligible. I was just happy that it was eligible to be honest, and when it was shortlisted I thought that was the peak. And then I was nominated and I was just frozen for like half an hour afterwards from shock.”
On the horizon
Interestingly, the characters in “Yes-People” may be making another appearance in a future, perhaps longer project.
“I wrote a huge story around these characters, to facilitate the animation process and make it more fun and smooth,” he says. “I know they have a huge backstory and I know where they’re going, so maybe these characters will be somewhere in the future. But I do write a lot, and have many more ideas, both animated and live action. This project was kind of like an artistic roar. I just wanted people to know that I’m a director. I’ve been an animator for a long time. I’m very keen on writing and directing my own things, whether it’s short or long format. I have ideas and material for both, so I definitely want to chase that.”
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