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London film festival to end with 'Three Billboards'

Associated Press

The 12-day London Film Festival ends Sunday with "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," a small-town tragicomedy starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson that is being tipped as an Oscar contender next year.

Martin McDonagh's film won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival and last month took the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award, frequently a bellwether for Hollywood's coming awards season.

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Loveless," a piercing drama about a divorcing couple whose son disappears, won the best picture prize Saturday at the London festival's awards ceremony, where filmmaker Paul Greengrass said the industry needs to do "much, much better" on diversity after the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Zvyagintsev's prize was the director's second top trophy from the London festival. He received the best picture award in 2014 for "Leviathan," a tragic satire of small-town corruption that brought the director criticism from Russian officials.

British director Andrea Arnold, president of the judging panel, said "Loveless" turned one family's story into "a universal tragedy."

"Loveless" is also an indictment of social flaws, with resonance well beyond Russia. Festival director Clare Stewart said the film's depiction of parents so consumed with their own lives they don't initially realize their son is missing "is such a powerful metaphor for what is happening with many children around the world."

Stewart said "Loveless" asks audiences, "Are we caring for our future?"

During an awards ceremony at London's 17th-century Banqueting House, South African director John Trengove won the first feature trophy for "The Wound," a drama about masculinity and sexuality set against the backdrop of a Xhosa initiation ritual.

The documentary prize went to Lucy Cohen's "Kingdom of Us," a portrait of a family trying to recover after a suicide. Patrick Bresnan's "The Rabbit Hunt" was named best short film.

Greengrass, the English director of "United 93" and three of the Jason Bourne thrillers, received the British Film Institute Fellowship, a career honor.

The 61st London festival has featured glitzy galas for other potential awards season favorites, including Guillermo del Toro's fantastical "The Shape of Water," Sean Baker's vibrant "The Florida Project" and directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' tennis drama "Battle of the Sexes."

But it has also been shaken by the allegations of sexual harassment and rape against powerful Hollywood producer Weinstein. The disgraced movie mogul has denied non-consensual sexual activity.

Accepting his award, Greengrass said it had been a difficult week for the industry, which still has a "profound issue with diversity."

"We need to do much, much better, including addressing our lack of women directors as a matter of urgency," Greengrass said.

He said "every one of us in leadership positions have to do more" to stamp out bad behavior.

The London festival has sought in recent years to encourage diversity in the film industry. About one-quarter of the 242 features in this year's lineup were directed by women — a higher share than many festivals manage.

Stewart said that "it's been very important for us, given our history of championing strong women, to really support the women who are brave enough to come forward and speak out" against Weinstein.

Stewart said she hoped exposure of Weinstein's behavior over decades would be a turning point.

"I think that this will lead to change," she said.

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