LONDON (Reuters) - Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker” swept 3-D blockbuster “Avatar” aside at the BAFTA British film awards on Sunday, picking up best film and best director among its six prizes and laying down a marker for the Oscars.
The movies, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and ex-husband James Cameron respectively, were both nominated for eight awards at the BAFTAs, and also lead the field heading into next month’s Academy Awards with nine nominations apiece.
Bigelow became the first woman to win the best director BAFTA, and said she hoped she would not be the last.
“Women’s struggle for equity is a constant struggle, so if this can be a beacon of light, then wonderful,” she told reporters backstage after receiving her BAFTA in the gilded splendor of London’s Royal Opera House.
Cameron was in the audience, and Avatar, the biggest box office hit in history, won just two awards — production design and special visual effects. Bigelow played down talk of rivalry between the former spouses.
“It’s been a real honor,” she said. “Specifically with Jim, we’re very good friends. I think we’re proud of each other and I think that’s there for a long time.”
The Hurt Locker, whose budget was dwarfed by that of Avatar as was its box office takings, follows a bomb disposal unit in Iraq, and captures the tension and danger as they seek to defuse bombs in cars, under dirt and strapped to innocent civilians.
“I think we all sensed an amazing responsibility to honor the people in the film and honor a scriptwriter who risked his life to capture the tragedy and chaos of war,” Bigelow said.
“I would like to dedicate this to never abandoning the need to find a resolution for peace.”
Scriptwriter Mark Boal also picked up the best original screenplay award.
The BAFTAs tend to lean toward British talent more than the Oscars, and they are a far-from-perfect barometer of what happens at the Academy Awards.
But the scale of The Hurt Locker’s success will be noted by the industry as well as the media, which has built both the BAFTAs and Oscars into a Bigelow-versus-Cameron duel.
Colin Firth (“A Single Man”) and Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) made it a home double in the main acting categories.
Best supporting actress went to Mo’Nique for the gritty U.S. production “Precious” and Christoph Waltz won the best supporting actor prize for his chilling turn as a Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s riotous “Inglourious Basterds.”
Tarantino was among the stars who turned up for the awards, and also on the red carpet were Kate Winslet, “Twilight” co-stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson and Prince William, second in line to the British throne.
Stewart won the Orange Rising Star prize decided by the British public unlike the other awards, and prison thriller “A Prophet” topped the foreign film category.
The prince was named as the new BAFTA president, taking over from British director Richard Attenborough.
Veteran British actress Vanessa Redgrave accepted an Academy Fellowship in honor of a career spanning six decades and followed in the footsteps of the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and Elizabeth Taylor.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; editing by Myra MacDonald