‘Gorka’ follows a French exchange student visiting England for the first time who finds himself at the centre of a British family dynamic. It had its premiere at BFI Film Festival in August 2023, and in January this year was shortlisted for Best Short Film at BAFTA.
Ahead of the BAFTA show on Sunday, we spoke to director Joe Weiland, DoP Harry Wheeler and colourist Jack McGinity about making the film.
Hey Joe. First of all, congratulations! We were really happy to hear that Gorka has been nominated for Best Short Film at the BAFTAs 2024. How does it feel? What do you think it is about the film that spoke to the jury?
JOE: It’s an absolute honour, really. Gorka is a film that touches on universal themes so I guess that could be why. It’s a film about human connection, a film that celebrates the fact that even practical strangers can offer comfort and hope to each other.
You’ve said that Gorka is inspired by personal experience. To what extent do you think it’s important to explore your own experiences and emotions through self-initiated projects like this?
JOE: Gorka is a story that I wrote based on real experiences from my life. It’s a reflection of the dynamics within my own family. It’s the first thing I’ve directed and I wanted to tell a story that’s close to me.
My ambition for this film is to make people see the light in the darkness, to view tragic, sad events as more than these emotionally fixed moments in life. People like to call it ‘dark comedy’, I prefer to call it real life. A French exchange student is thrown into the middle of a very British dynamic.
The story wrestles with the theme of grief, but has an underbelly of tenderness and humour. When trying to convey such a range of emotions, what did you need to consider when thinking about the cinematography?
HARRY: It was such a pleasure working with Joe. We didn’t want to depict anything too drab or depressing. Gorka is a hopeful story so we let that bleed into the visuals. Britain through the eyes of a French exchange student.
What brought you to Jack / Cheat and what kinds of skills or traits do you look for in a colourist?
HARRY: I’ve worked with Jack before and put simply – Jack’s the man. He’s the best. Jack creates such an open environment to work in and encourages a dialogue … which Joe and I loved. We challenged things together and pushed for the best look.
How do you think Jack’s colour work helped shape the way the audience perceived, and will perceive, this film?
HARRY: Jack really worked with adding texture and giving our scenes depth. We leant into the natural colours of the house – the pink carpet and the blue walls. He really give it that British feel. Jack didn’t overcomplicate … he used colour to serve the story … the way it should be. He brought a truth to Gorka’s world.
Jack, at what stage were you approached with this project and what brief were you given?
JACK: I joined quite late on as I was suggested to Joe by our mutual friend George Belfield, so once again I’m indebted to George. The brief was really about working with the flow of what Harry had shot and I just wanted to be considerate to the narrative so I approached it with a light hand.
How would you describe the look of Gorka, and how did you work with Joe and Harry to achieve this look?
JACK: Harry is such a clever DoP and has confidence in what he shots so he is very clear and precise about what he’s aiming for which, as a colourist, makes your life very easy. He also really collaborates with his directors and it was extremely obvious that he and Joe were on the same page about everything. Joe had such a strong visual plan for the film and his enthusiasm and talent meant he was able to communicate it so well.
How did you balance the almost contradictory themes of sadness, tenderness and humour with the colour grade?
JACK: To be honest, all the hard work had been done on set. From production design to lighting everything had been delicately worked out so I was just very conscious of allowing the story to flow. It’s such a wonderful film that as you say juggles it’s temperament so brilliantly. I’m very honoured to have worked on Gorka.