Gisli Darri Halldorsson interview: ‘Yes-People’ director
Gísli Darri Halldórsson is a 2021 Oscar nominee in the Best Animated Short category for “Yes-People,” the eight-minute film that he directed, produced, wrote and animated. In an exclusive interview with Gold Derby (watch the video above), he reveals about the inspiration for the eight-minute film, “I was obsessed with routines and habits and it was my own terror of living my life in a loop. I found a way to marry those together, where characters stuck in a loop can only say yes.”
The film depicts its six protagonists saying “já” (“yes” in Icelandic) in a variety of mundane, everyday experiences over a single winter 1980 day in Halldórsson’s native Iceland, with the word taking on different meanings, depending on circumstances and intonation. He says about the limited dialogue, “I really like creative restraints. I really like that box and creating a space where you can become creative, because the problem with animation is that you can do everything and that’s fantastic, but also a terrible burden.”
Halldórsson draws a parallel with a game of basketball to explain why the inclusion of grunting and singing make “já” not quite the only utterance in the film. “If you didn’t have that box around the game, it wouldn’t be as exciting and if the players could take more than two steps, it wouldn’t be so exciting,” explains the filmmaker before adding, “Then there are famous moments where players cheat and they get away with it and it makes the game more dramatic and fun.”
Iceland has seldom figured into the Oscars, with the country having been nominated only twice in the Best International Feature category. (1991’s “Children of Nature” starred an unrelated and now-deceased Gísli Halldórsson, hence this one is credited additionally with his middle name.) “It tells the world that Icelanders are not very talkative. We’re quiet people,” muses Halldórsson about what the world will learn about his countrymen through his film, adding, “Especially when winter hits, people shudder at the idea of this almost constant darkness.” He continues, “It’s a dull darkness. People hibernate mentally.” Noting the narrative importance of the winter season that is depicted in “Yes-People,” Halldórsson explains, “When spring hits, there’s a different attitude in the air.”
Halldórsson initially worked on “Yes-People” between freelance gigs, including as a storyboard artist for the drama series “Trapped.” He calls the eight-year journey, “Quite painful, but very joyous.” Halldórsson resides in Reykjavík, but will soon be traveling to the United States for the first time, to attend this year’s Oscar ceremony in person.