Aleem Khan’s After Love dominated the 2021 British Independent Film Awards, winning six prizes in total including Best British Independent Film.
Khan also took home both Best Director and the Douglas Hickox Award for Best Debut Director, as well as Best Screenplay. Joanna Scanlan won Best Actress and Talid Ariss won Best Supporting Actor for their roles in the movie.
Set in the port town of Dover, the film follows Mary Hussain who suddenly finds herself a widow following the unexpected death of her husband. A day after the burial, she discovers he has a secret just twenty-one miles across the English Channel in Calais.
Khan said at the ceremony: “What the f***?! … Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would be happening tonight. My mum and my dad and family are going to be going nuts. This film, at its core, is about strangers seeing one another.”
The ceremony, presented this year by Asim Chaudhry, saw Adeel Akhtar win Best Actor for his turn in Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava, which also received Best Music for Connie Farr and Harry Escott.
The Best Supporting Actress award went to Vinette Robinson for Boiling Point, which won Best Casting (Carolyn McCleod), Best Cinematography (Matthew Lewis), and Best Sound (James Drake, Rob Entwistle and Kiff McManus).
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, the animated documentary hybrid, won Best International Independent Film. Riz Ahmed, an exec-producer on the Oscar hopeful, called the film a “timely story of refugees and immigration.” As previously announced, Ahmed was the recipient of the Richard Harris Outstanding Contribution by an Actor to British Film prize this year.
Ahmed, who received a standing ovation, teared up on the night, admitting that he approached the donor with a mix of “celebration and suspicion”. The Star Wars actor said he decided to accept the award as “encouragement of what’s to come”. He thanked a roll call of Brit directors including Michael Winterbottom, and Chris Morris for proving that “geniuses are not arseholes, they’re really fun to be with.” He reserved the highest praise for his family, whom he said taught him the “value of storytelling”.
Director Yann Demange said of Ahmed: “He carved a space for a whole generation to come behind him. He made space for others and continues to do so.”
Breakthrough Performance went to Nell Barlow, star of Marley Morrison’s British holiday park set coming-of-age debut Sweetheart, which also won the Breakthrough Producer prize for Michelle Antoniades who quipped that the film was “made with a lot of love and a ten pound note.”
Cathy Brady won Best Debut Screenwriter for Wildfire, and Paul Sng and Celeste Bell’s Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché won Best Documentary. Finally, Best British Short Film went to Femme, while the Special Jury prize was presented to org Raising Films, which supports and campaigns for parents and carers working in the UK screen sector. The org got a standing ovation, telling the crowd: “Parents and carers, we see you. And now we know the BIFAs see you too.”
The BIFA Craft Awards were previously announced, with Boiling Point and The Souvenir Part II taking three a piece.
Andreas Wiseman contributed to this report.