Brit buffs celebrate 'Hurt Locker' victory over 'Avatar'

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Carey Mulligan, left, and Colin Firth, right, flank moderator Francine Stock and panelists Dave Calhoun, Stephen Woolley and Ben Miller.

In David and Goliath-style, “Avatar” was soundly beaten by “The Hurt Locker” at the BAFTAs Feb. 21 — an outcome that was popular with film fans backstage at the awards ceremony.

Participants in the Sony Ericsson Film Lovers’ Forum watched the U.K. kudos event live onscreen from the Royal Opera House’s snug Linbury Studio Theater and participated in a panel discussion expertly chaired by the BBC’s Francine Stock.

The assembled heard panelist/Brit film producer Stephen Woolley predict that, despite “The Hurt Locker” triumphing over “Avatar,” the Oscars would likely produce a very different result.

“In America, I think there may well be a feeling of, ‘James Cameron’s made us a lot of money, he’s kept us afloat in a difficult year, let’s give him the Oscar,’” Woolley forecast.

Each film received eight nominations. While “Avatar” had to make do with wins in the special visual effects and production design categories, its low-budget rival scooped six awards.

Woolley agreed with a fellow panelist, Time Out London film editor Dave Calhoun, that the past year was not a vintage one for mainstream cinema.

“Nothing from Hollywood has shaken things up,” he opined. “There has been no outstanding mainstream film, although ‘An Education’ is a very good film.”

All the panelists agreed that the year’s finest films had emerged from outside the main studios.

“With pictures like ‘The Prophet’ and ‘The White Ribbon,’ European cinema had enjoyed a strong period,” Calhoun reckoned. “In Britain, it’s been a good year for new talent and for first- and second-time directors — for example ‘Nowhere Boy’ and ‘In the Loop.’”

The third panel member, actor-turned-helmer Ben Miller, expressed anxiety that, due to the impact of the weak economy on film financing, in two years’ time there would be a dearth of new films, especially nonstudio pictures.

Implicit in his comment was the fear that a movie such as “The White Ribbon” (beaten for the foreign-language prize by “The Prophet”) would struggle to get made in the future.

“‘The White Ribbon’ is the most powerful film I’ve ever seen about the rise of Nazism,” Miller enthused.

Woolley wondered if Cameron’s 3D blockbuster represented “a new immersive cinema,” comparing “Avatar” to the “Mamma Mia!” phenomenon.

“People go for the experience, rather than for the cinema,” Woolley added. “It’s a bit like a new form. When you put those glasses on, it’s like kids playing games.”

The Film Lovers’ Forum responded with spontaneous applause as “The Hurt Locker” clinched the BAFTAs for best director and best film.

“I was worried that the box office success of ‘Avatar’ might result in a lot more sci-fi films coming out of Hollywood,” said one of the forum attendees, speaking from the floor.

“Now that ‘The Hurt Locker’ has won, perhaps there is less chance of that happening. Personally that is something I welcome.”

For the final part of the evening, the panelists were joined by some of the night’s winners, including Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Bastards.”

So what was Quentin Tarantino like on set? “Concise, focused, supportive and solicitous,” Waltz replied.

It was just the kind of inside dope the film lovers had turned out to hear on a cold, dank London night.

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