After Love dominates British independent film awards

A directorial debut about a recently widowed woman coming to terms with her late husband’s shocking secret has emerged as the lead winner of the British independent film awards.

After Love by the film-maker Aleem Khan won six awards at Sunday night’s ceremony hosted by the comedian Asim Chaudhry. They included best British independent film, best director, the Douglas Hickox award for best debut director and best screenplay. Joanna Scanlan also took home best actress and Talid Ariss best supporting actor for their performances in the film.

Scanlan, who is best known for her comedic work in shows such as Getting On and The Thick of It, plays Mary, a white, English woman who converted to Islam many years ago to marry Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), with whom she lives near the Dover cliffs. But when Ahmed dies suddenly, Mary discovers the husband she thought she knew had been leading a secret life in Calais, making her question her relationship, culture and identity.

Related: After Love director Aleem Khan: ‘I walked around Mecca and prayed not to be gay’

Khan, who earned plaudits for short films such as 2014’s Three Brothers, has talked widely about how growing up Muslim and gay caused him to lead “two very separate personal lives for a long time” – a sentiment that runs through the film.

Meanwhile, the award for best actor went to Adeel Akhtar for his role in Clio Barnard’s story of forbidden love, Ali & Ava. Connie Farr and Harry Escott picked up the award for best music for their work on the same film.

The best supporting actress award went to Vinette Robinson for her work in Philip Barantini’s multi-Bifa nominated, single-take restaurant kitchen drama Boiling Point. The movie, which premiered to acclaim at the Karlovy Vary film festival in the Czech Republic, also received awards for best casting, best cinematography and best sound.

The Bifas highlight and celebrate the best independent British film and film-makers and the best future prospects, with nominees and winners selected by the industry.

This year, the award for breakthrough performance went to Nell Barlow, the star of Marley Morrison’s British holiday park-set coming-of-age debut Sweetheart, which also won breakthrough producer for Michelle Antoniades.

Cathy Brady won best debut screenwriter for Wildfire, which follows two sisters from Northern Ireland reconnecting with each other and their past.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, Paul Sng and Celeste Bell’s intimate film about the titular punk figure and X-ray Spex frontwoman, won best documentary, while best British short film went to FEMME, about a sinister night out for a femme gay man.

Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, the animated real-life story of a childhood refugee’s hidden past, won best international independent film. The Souvenir Part II, Joanna Hogg’s follow up to her critically acclaimed 2019 feature was awarded best costume design, best editing and best production design.

The award for best effects went to road trip horror Dashcam and best makeup and hair design went to period biopic The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.

The Richard Harris award for outstanding contribution by an actor to British film was presented to Riz Ahmed, who missed out on the best actor gong for his role in Encounter. The special jury prize awarded by the Bifa main jury went to Raising Films, the groundbreaking organisation which supports and campaigns for parents and carers working in the UK screen sector.

Full list of awards

  • Best British independent film After Love

  • Best director Aleem Khan, After Love

  • Best screenplay Aleem Khan, After Love

  • Best actress Joanna Scanlan, After Love

  • Best actor Adeel Akhtar, Ali & Ava

  • Best supporting actress Vinette Robinson, Boiling Point

  • Best supporting actor Talid Ariss, After Love

  • Douglas Hickox award (for debut director) Aleem Khan, After Love

  • Breakthrough producer Michella Antoniades, Sweetheart

  • Breakthrough performance Nell Barlow, Sweetheart

  • Best debut screenwriter Cathy Brady, Wildfire

  • Best documentary Poly Styrene: I am a cliché

  • Raindance discovery award Poly Styrene: I am a cliché

  • Best British short film Femme

  • Best international independent film Flee

  • Best casting Boiling Point

  • Best cinematography Boiling Point

  • Best costume design The Souvenir Part II

  • Best editing The Souvenir Part II

  • Best music Ali & Ava

  • Best makeup & hair design The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

  • Best effects Dashcam

  • Best production design The Souvenir Part II

  • Best sound Boiling Point

  • The Richard Harris award for outstanding contribution by an actor to British film Riz Ahmed

  • The special jury prize Raising Films

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