AFTERSUN is one of the most acclaimed British films of the year.

Its story of 11-year-old Sophie’s (Frankie Corio) holiday with her idealistic father Calum (Paul Mescal), and how the trip changes her views of him and the world, has been called one of the sweetest and most heartbreaking films of 2022, especially thanks to the tremendous performances of its two leads.

Which makes it all the more absurd that its writer and director Charlotte Wells, who makes her feature film debut with Aftersun, always thought that becoming a filmmaker was just a pipe dream.

Born in Edinburgh and mostly raised there, too, except for five years in Glasgow, Wells tells the Sunday National that even though “going to the cinema was a huge part of growing up”, making movies “seemed so utterly out of reach”. Then, when she was a teenager, Wells joined a weekend charity group called Scottish Kids Are Making Movies, otherwise known as SKAMM. Based in Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, it inspired and nurtured young, creative filmmaking talent.

Through that, Wells was able to compete in several competitions that made becoming a filmmaker feel like a possibility. “It was definitely on my mind. But it was something I didn’t really pursue properly until I was older.”

After studying classics at King’s College London and then at Oxford, Wells briefly worked in New York before then returning to England. It was there that she decided to take a masters degree at New York University, with the intention of becoming a producer or television development executive.

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But her priorities changed when she got behind a camera for her first short film Tuesday, which tells the story of a 16-year-old girl accepting the magnitude of a recent loss.

“As a part of that program, I had the opportunity to make a short film. It was such a fulfilling, creative and collaborative experience that it inspired me to continue.”

Despite spending so much time in America, Wells’s Scottishness has always been, and will always be, “the entire basis of who” she is as a filmmaker.

“[Being from Scotland] has impacted me a lot. I’ve worked with a lot of Americans and English people. I’ve learned a lot from those experiences and from different films from all over. But I am Scottish. It will always be an inextricable and important part of my identity.”

While still at NYU, Wells’s work quickly started to draw the attention of people outside of her classroom. Her second short film, Laps, which depicted a woman being sexually assaulted on a crowded New York City subway, was recognised by both the Sundance and SXSW Film Festivals.

Working on her short films wasn’t just essential in building Wells’s creative voice and giving her the confidence to become a director, it also gave her the connections to actually make Aftersun.

“It was important from every perspective. It was important in me discovering directing and how fulfilling I found directing to be. It was essential in building relationships and collaborations with the people without whom I couldn’t have made Aftersun. It was essential to making professional industry connections that eventually enabled this film to be produced and financed.”

There was never any doubt that Aftersun would be Wells’s first feature film. “I had just been working on it for so long. There was no plan B. There was never a second script I was working on or even an idea I was dabbling with. It was always Aftersun.”

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Wells started writing the script for Aftersun after she made Tuesday, her first short film. Rather than basing it on a real incident or an actual holiday, she wanted to capture the “essence” of her relationship with her father.

She was really able to hone and improve the script when she was a fellow at the 2020 Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors Labs.

“Those had quite a profound impact on the script, I think because they gave me a dedicated time and space to dedicate myself solely to it and to interrogate the choices that I’ve made and ultimately gain insight and clarity into what was the most integral parts of the story.”

When it came time for casting, Mescal was immediately on Wells’s radar after his performance in Normal People had drawn such praise. “It was important that the character looked very young and that these two people could easily be mistaken for siblings. Plus, Paul had a lot of the qualities that I was looking for in terms of just innate presence and being so very warm and very charming. He also has a really interesting physicality to him.”

Mescal also proved to be the perfect foil for Corio, who herself was one of over 800 young actors that applied for the role of Sophie, ahead of filming in Turkey.

“Paul knew that, since she was such a young performer and somebody who hadn’t acted before, she needed the space to find what she needed to find.”

Back in August, Aftersun opened the 75th Edinburgh International Film Festival at the same venue where Wells’ passion for filmmaking had truly ignited. Unsurprisingly, considering how integral the Filmhouse has been to her own development, Wells was extremely sad to hear about the recent news that the home of the Edinburgh Film Festival, and the renowned event itself, will soon be closing.

“I feel sad, it’s going to reduce access to independent and international film. I think that’s incredibly sad and frustrating and shocking and disappointing. I hope that a solution can be found, especially for the Filmhouse as a place of community and discovery.”

Aftersun received rapturous applause from the Scottish crowd, just like it had done at its 2022 Cannes Film Festival premiere, where it won the French Touch Jury Prize, all of which proves that its subtle exploration of memory and parenthood connects with a universal audience.

“The film is an accumulation of moments,” says Wells. “I think they lead to a pretty raw expression of feeling. If anything, I just hope that audiences are able to connect with that when it comes.”

Aftersun was released in UK cinemas on November 18