Inspired by a hilariously bleak true story, Joe Weiland’s debut film, Gorka, is a warmly funny ode to British awkwardness.
Following a family forced to bring their French exchange student along to meet a dying relative, Joe Weiland’s short film Gorka seems to have gone down a treat following its Official Selection at the BFI London Film Festival 2023.
It’s not hard to see why. Combining piercing observations into the British psyche at its most testing moments with pure cinematic feel-goodery, its nomination for the best British Short Film at this year’s BAFTAs has made Weiland, aged 24 at the time of filming, the youngest director in the category.
Joe phoned in from a commercial shoot in Mexico to chat inspirations, dropping out of film school and prawn sandwiches.
Where did the inspiration for Gorka come from?
It’s all based on a real day that happened within my family. It was in 2020, I think just after the lockdown, and my mum got the call that she should come say goodbye to her dad. Just like in the film, she had a very difficult relationship with her father. And so when she said we were all going down, my dad was like: “Really? He doesn’t like me very much, I’m the last person he wants to see on his deathbed”.
There was this hilarious debate, which was also quite dark, and the next morning, seven of us have packed into a car flying down to the seaside – including my brother’s fiancée, who had never met my grandfather. So that gave me the idea of this outsider figure on a very personal day like that.
It’s got such a specifically British sense of humour – was that where the idea of an exchange student came in? To see how we deal with grief and setbacks through a fresh perspective?
Yeah, completely. The day we we arrived at the house for real, we were in such a rush, but then we were eating sandwiches and drinking tea for an hour while he was in the room next door. What could be more British than that? Not addressing the actual elephant in the room, and instead talking about the weather and prawn sandwiches.
Yeah, I’m quite fascinated by the way British people approach things – that difficulty in expressing things, stiff upper lip and all that. So that’s what I wanted to comment on with her relationship with her dad. And I suppose it’s a comment on a generational thing as well, never telling your kids you love them.
You’ve got such a brilliant cast together for this – David Baddiel is such a huge get for your debut film, and Yanis (Charifi, who plays Gorka) is fantastic. How did they get involved?
Well, we sent the script to David’s agent. And David replied quite quickly, and he said: “I get sent loads of short films that I hate. And, actually, this script made me laugh. Apparently the poo line got him in.
So when David was on board, it was just a process of casting Gorka. It took about six months because we searched far and wide. At one point I was looking in South America. And then we came across Yanni, and I just thought: “That’s him”.
You dropped out of a screenwriting course in LA to make Gorka – what was it that meant you had to make this here and now?
I think film school was interesting for me. I think if I could go back, and if someone else was in my position, I really knew deep down that any feature films I made in the future would be British. And so for me, I was in LA writing British stories, and it didn’t feel like the right place for them. Now, that’s not to say it was a bad experience, because I learned a lot and it made me write and write and write. But at the end of the day, I was like, I’ve got to be in England for Gorka. These classmates in LA, they’re just not picking up on the nuances of a prawn sandwich.
And I guess you’ve been validated for that – you’ve got a BAFTA nomination. Did that come right out of the blue?
Yeah, I mean, never in my wildest dreams did I think that would happen. Of course, maybe in the shower, or like on a long run, the thought would come into my head like, “Wow, that really would be the best thing ever”. But then it happened. I’m still sort of processing it, really. For my first film, it’s such a nice bit of recognition to have.
Looking ahead to the future – I can absolutely see the story of Gorka developing into a feature, is that something you’ve considered?
It’s interesting. I think when I set out to make the short I wanted to make it as if it could exist as a sequence or within a grander narrative. But looking at it now having taken some perspective, I love how it just exists at this moment in time.
But if someone came to me and said, let’s explore this character further, yeah, I would definitely be interested. But yeah, in terms of a first feature, me and my brother are working on something new now – he’s a writer and director as well. So that’s gonna be the first one, hopefully.
Gorka is available to watch in full here. This year’s BAFTA film awards ceremony takes place on 18th February.