Beatrice Ní Bhroin talks with Irish filmmaker David O’Reilly, who won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2009 for his short animation Please Say Something. Featuring a troubled relationship between a cat and mouse and set in the distant future, the Berlinale jury described it as ‘A film which gave us much to think about. It was a very humane story, with characters who made us laugh and feel sad at the same time.’
Beatrice: What is the importance of gaining recognition and winning an award at Berlinale?
David: Awards aren’t important per se. They are symbols of recognition, which act like a consolation for all the pain you went through making a film. More significantly, they affect how other people see your work, which can make it easier to make the next film.
So how did you start your career in animation?
I worked at the Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny between the ages of 15 and 18. They taught me how to draw and some basic computer skills.
What’s the significance of an animated piece winning first prize over ‘traditional’ short films?
The most obvious point when this happens is that it proves animation can exist outside the genre of children’s entertainment or fantasy art. The only other animation filmmakers to get this were Jan Svankmajer and John Lasseter with Pixar’s very first short, which actually took silver. [Svankmajer won the Golden Bear for Moznosti dialogu in 1982 and Lasseter won the Silver Bear for Luxo Jr. in 1986.]
My film in particular proves a number of things; it wasn’t an ordinary animation. It’s one of the only pieces of independent 3D animated shorts ever made, as 3D animation is very rarely seen out of a commercial (or student) context. I did the entire thing myself in my room, on no budget. Furthermore, the film proves that something superficially fake and artificial can produce real emotion. Fundamentally, you don’t need to put all this work into making 3D look realistic because audiences don’t care.
The film seems to make a very dark social commentary.
I’m not making any social comment; I don’t believe film is appropriate for that. You just show things as they make sense to you. The filmmaker’s point of view should be invisible.
The cat and mouse have a very complicated love. What’s the message here?
The message is the film – you just have to see it.
The style of Please Say Something is very calculated but has a rough look. Your style varies hugely throughout your work, what influences you choices?
Most of my aesthetic choices are about economy rather than finding a unique style. You always want to get the optimum amount of information and detail across. Also influencing my choices are my methods of working with the software. I push aesthetic elements that are native to it, while most work against it and make it emulate other styles and techniques.
What is it about animation that enables you to be creative?
Software has inherent limitations. When your imagination comes into contact with limitations it produces ideas.
Does it feel good to put Ireland on the map in an international competition?
Of course, I’m proud to be Irish, even though I don’t live there.
There is some language in the film that you seem to get away with because it is animation, do you think animation has freedoms other mediums wouldn’t?
Every medium has subjects and content which is appropriate for it. I wouldn’t say it’s more or less free, however. All image-based work has to deal with objective representation, which is not something literature is burdened with, but on the other hand, in film you can accurately control things like rhythm and timing. The main advantage animation has over live-action cinema is the aesthetic control it offers.
What happens from here?
I will develop a feature script over the next year or so, and would like to set up a studio here in Berlin.
For more information about David O’Reilly or to see more of his work, please visit
Watch Please Say Something here