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‘Tarnation’ takes it

U.S. pic takes first-feature kudo in London

LONDON — American helmer Jonathan Caouette’s study of mental illness in his family, “Tarnation,” won the London Film Festival’s Sutherland trophy for first feature, presented at the closing-night gala Thursday.

The inaugural U.K. Film Talent kudo went to Brit first-time writer-helmer Amma Asante for “A Way of Life,” about a single mom in South Wales.

Nicole Kassel’s study of pedophilia, “The Woodsman,” starring Kevin Bacon, scooped the Satyajit Ray award, presented to the best first feature making its U.K. premiere at the fest.

The Fipresci Intl. Critics Award went to Belgium comedy “Aaltra,” about wheelchair-bound neighbors, directed by Gustave Kervern and Benoit Delepine.

The 16-day fest closed with a gala screening of “I Heart Huckabees,” attended by helmer David O. Russell and co-star Isabelle Huppert, at the Odeon Leicester Square, followed by an after-party at Just St. James club in nearby St. James.

Although an American scooped the Sutherland, the Brits stole the show at the public festival, which is proving a meaningful showcase for emerging local talent.

U.K. documentarian Saul Dibb’s first fiction feature, “Bullet Boy,” an arresting look at urban gun crime marks its helmer and lead, Ashley Walters, as stars of the future.

More predictably, Brit pics “Vera Drake,” “My Summer of Love” and “Enduring Love” were fest favorites with auds and critics.

The 48th festival saw a strong turnout of heavyweight helmers including Mike Leigh, Gregg Araki, Taylor Hackford, Brad Bird, Wong Kar-wai, Roger Michell, Mira Nair, Francois Ozon, Lukas Moodysson, Zach Braff and Todd Solondz.

Festival director Sandra Hebron programmed more than 180 feature films and 103 shorts across London from Hackney to Leicester Square.

Ticket sales rose from 99,000 last year to 102,000 this year, but this does not take into account attendance at many free screenings and panels, or industry events.

Industryites are upbeat about Hebron’s stewardship and feel that, despite a lack of world premieres and losing some Brit preems to the Edinburgh fest, she is steering the ship in the right direction.

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