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Filmmaker Focus: Joe Weiland

Gorka is the directorial debut of filmmaker Joe Weiland. The short was part of the BFI London Film Festival’s official selection and screened at Aesthetica 2023. In 2024, it was nominated for a BAFTA in the British Short Film category, where Weiland – aged 24 – was the youngest director to be named. The comedy-drama demonstrates the power of personal connection. The film follows a French exchange student Gorka, who visits England for the first time. Later, he finds himself at the centre of a very particular British family dynamic. We asked Weiland about the inspirations behind his first short, his perspective on grief, portraying genuine human connections and future projects.

ASFF: The film is based on a very personal story that happened to you and your family. Why did you decide to make a short about it? 

JW: I wrote Gorka after the passing of my grandfather. In 2020, my mother received a call saying that her father hadn’t got long left, so my family squeezed into a car and travelled to Torquay to say our goodbyes. Similarly to the story in Gorka, my mother and her father had a very complicated relationship. To add to this, on the day this happened, my brother’s fiancée was with us on this journey. Having never met my grandfather, I felt the absurdity of the situation and that’s where I got inspired. The notion of a complete outsider on a day like that. We can say Gorka is a reflection of the dynamics within my own family. It’s the first thing I’ve directed, and I wanted it to be authentic and close to me. 

ASFF: Gorka touches on the many phases of grief. Despite portraying the complicated relationship between Tanya and her father, it is full of light moments that make viewers smile. What was your aim with this subtle balance between comedy and drama?

JW: In the past few years, globally we’ve been living through tough times. People need to smile, people need to laugh and I wanted to be at the heart of a film that will make that happen. My ambition was to make audiences see the light in the darkness, to view tragic, sad events as more than these emotionally fixed moments in life. These moments happen to all of us but our perspective on these events is so important!I know that people like to call Gorka ‘black comedy.’ But I’d prefer to say it’s like real life. A French exchange student is thrown into the middle of a very British dynamic. 

ASFF: The scene in the bar with Tanya and Gorka is one of the most genuine moments. This really gives the film a sense of comfort and shows that we can deeply connect on many levels even if we don’t speak the same language. Would you say this is the message of the short?

JW: Grief is such a knotty, protean feeling. It’s unpredictable and hard to define. I’m drawn to the idea that you can find humour, you can find a connection in these darker moments. I wanted to tell this story because it approaches grief in a fresh way. We take the outside figure of Gorka and we read grief through his perspective. This is a story about human connection, a film that celebrates the fact that even practical strangers can offer comfort and hope to each other. Yes, it’s a comedy. But that’s exactly why this story feels truthful. Tragic events like these are complex, they are full of funny, sad, unexpected, confusing and hopeful reactions that define what it means to be human.

ASFF: How do you feel about the BAFTA nomination? Especially since it’s your first short.

JW: Honestly, never in my wildest dreams did I think that would happen. OK, maybe in the shower, or during a long run the thought would pop into my head like, “Wow, that really would be the best thing ever.” But then it actually happened… I’m still sort of processing it, really. For my first film, it’s such a nice bit of recognition to have.

ASFF: What’s next? Are you working on something at the moment?

JW: Yes, I’m very busy at the moment. I finished shooting my next short not long ago which takes place in France. We are in the process of editing this now, which is super exciting. Also, I have another short film coming up in March alongside a feature I’m developing so it’s a full-on period! I look forward to seeing how all these going to be received.


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