PARK CITY, Utah — “Whiplash,” writer-director Damien Chazelle’s electrifying drama starring Miles Teller as a young jazz drummer and J.K. Simmons as his drill sergeant-like music teacher, won the grand jury prize and the audience award for U.S. dramatic features on Saturday night at the 30th annual Sundance Film Festival.
Coming on the heels of last year’s double-fisted win for “Fruitvale Station” (then titled “Fruitvale”), the triumph of “Whiplash” marks the second year in a row that the top two prizes for an American narrative feature have gone to the same film.
Acquired for distribution by Sony Classics, “Whiplash” proved an early critical favorite, screening to a strong reception on the first night of the festival and immediately setting a high bar for what was generally agreed to be a middling dramatic competition. The film began its winning ways at last year’s Sundance fest, where Chazelle’s short of the same title won a special jury prize.
The grand jury prize for U.S. documentaries went to “Rich Hill,” a close-up portrait of three underprivileged boys living in the titular Missouri town; the film was directed by cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo. In the same category, Michael Rossato-Bennett’s “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory,” about the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients through music, drew the audience award.
The World Cinema grand jury prizes were awarded to “To Kill a Man,” a revenge thriller from Chilean helmer Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, and “Return to Homs,” Talal Derki’s documentary about the effects of the civil war in Syria. The audience awards for international features went to “Difret,” Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s dramatic examination of oppressed girls and women in Ethiopia, and “The Green Prince,” Nadav Schirman’s documentary portrait of Israeli secret-service informant Mosab Hassan Yousef.
Cutter Hodierne drew the U.S. dramatic directing award for his largely non-English-language directing debut, “Fishing Without Nets,” a bleak tale of a hijacked oil tanker as seen from the perspective of one of the young Somali pirates. The Waldo Salt screenwriting award was presented to writer-director Craig Johnson for his sibling dark comedy “The Skeleton Twins,” which stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and was widely considered one of the dramatic competition’s most commercial entries.
Christopher Blauvelt received the U.S. dramatic cinematography prize for his 35mm lensing on “Low Down,” director Jeff Preiss’ fictionalized account of two years in the life of jazz pianist Joe Albany. Special jury prizes were awarded to the Octopus Project, which composed the musical score for David Zellner’s “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter,” and to writer-director Justin Simien, named a “breakthrough talent” for his racially charged comedy “Dear White People.”
In the American documentary competition, Ben Cotner and Ryan White shared the directing prize for “The Case Against 8,” their inside look at the case to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban. Rachel Beth Anderson and helmer Ross Kauffman drew a cinematography prize for their dynamic lensing on “E-Team,” which follows the experiences of four globe-trotting Human Rights Watch activists.
Special jury prizes for U.S. documentaries were voted to Jesse Moss’ “The Overnighters,” a portrait of social and economic transformation in an oil-rich region of North Dakota, for its “intuitive filmmaking”; and to “Watchers of the Sky,” Edet Belzberg’s multistranded look at courageous activism worldwide, for its use of animation. “Watchers of the Sky” also picked up an editing prize for Jenny Golden and Karen Sim.
The Best of Next audience award was voted to “Imperial Dreams,” Malik Vitthal’s directing debut about a young writer and ex-con trying to reconnect with his young son in Watts, Los Angeles.
In the World Cinema dramatic competition, Australian helmer Sophie Hyde picked up the directing prize for “52 Tuesdays,” which was shot, per its title, over the course of a year, only on Tuesdays. Norwegian writer-helmer Eskil Vogt received the screenwriting prize for “Blind,” his drama about a woman who has lost her sight. Hong Khaou’s gay-themed grief drama “Lilting” received the cinematography prize for Ula Pontikos’ lensing, and “God Help the Girl,” a musical directed by Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, received a special jury prize.
In the World Cinema documentary competition, “20,000 Days on Earth,” Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s film about a fictitious 24 hours in the life of Nick Cave, won a pair of awards for directing and editing (by Jonathan Amos). “Happiness” drew the cinematography prize for lensers Thomas Balmes (who also directed) and Nina Bernfeld.
As announced on Friday, the $20,000 Alfred P. Sloan prize, presented annually to a film that focuses on science/technology as a theme, was given to Mike Cahill’s Premieres entry “I Origins,” a cerebral romantic drama about a pair of scientists studying the mysterious properties of the human eye. Cahill previously won this award for his 2011 sci-fi-themed debut, “Another Earth.”
Announced earlier in the week, the Sundance Institute/NHK Award for a visionary emerging filmmaker was presented to Mark Rosenberg for his upcoming film, “Ad Inexplorata.” The Sundance Institute/Mahindra Globe Filmmaking Awards for emerging international independent filmmakers were presented to Hong Khaou’s “Monsoon” (Vietnam/U.K.); Tobias Lindholm’s “A War” (Denmark); Ashlee Page’s “Archive” (Australia); and Neeraj Ghaywan’s “Fly Away Solo” (India).
The awards ceremony was co-hosted by the husband-and-wife team of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, who both appeared in the Premieres entry “Nick Offerman: American Ham,” and who also voiced two roles in the animated film “Ernest & Celestine,” which screened in the festival’s inaugural Sundance Kids sidebar. The two proved to be among the saucier Sundance hosts in recent memory, kicking off the night with, among other things, some cheeky sexual innuendo about Robert Redford’s face.
And the winners are:
Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): “Whiplash”
Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): “Rich Hill”
Audience Award (Dramatic): “Whiplash”
Audience Award (Documentary): “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory”
Directing (Dramatic): Cutter Hodierne, “Fishing Without Nets”
Directing (Documentary): Ben Cotner and Ryan White, “The Case Against 8”
Cinematography (Dramatic): Christopher Blauvelt, “Low Down”
Cinematography (Documentary): Rachel Beth Anderson and Ross Kauffman, “E-Team”
Editing (Documentary): Jenny Golden and Karen Sim, “Watchers of the Sky”
Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent (Dramatic): Justin Simien, “Dear White People”
Special Jury Award for Musical Score (Dramatic): The Octopus Project, “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter”
Special Jury Award (Documentary): “The Overnighters”
Special Jury Award for Use of Animation (Documentary): “Watchers of the Sky”
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): “To Kill a Man”
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): “Return to Homs”
World Cinema Audience Award (Dramatic): “Difret”
World Cinema Audience Award (Documentary): “The Green Prince”
Best of Next Audience Award: “Imperial Dreams”
World Cinema Directing Award (Dramatic): Sophie Hyde, “52 Tuesdays”
World Cinema Directing Award (Documentary): Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, “20,000 Days on Earth”
World Cinema Screenwriting Award: Eskil Vogt, “Blind”
World Cinema Cinematography Award (Dramatic): Ula Pontikos, “Lilting”
World Cinema Special Jury Prize (Dramatic): “God Help the Girl”
World Cinema Editing Award (Documentary): Jonathan Amos, “20,000 Days on Earth”
World Cinema Cinematography Award (Documentary): Thomas Balmes and Nina Bernfeld, “Happiness”
World Cinema Special Jury Award (Documentary): “We Come as Friends”
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: Mike Cahill, “I Origins”