“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s visually inventive comedy-drama about the friendship between a misfit teenager and a classmate diagnosed with leukemia, received both the grand jury prize and the audience award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on Saturday night. Part cancer-themed tearjerker and part tribute to obsessive movie love, “Me and Earl” was acquired by Fox Searchlight earlier this week in one of the festival’s biggest deals.
This marks the third year in a row that one movie has taken both top prizes at Sundance, following the lead of “Fruitvale Station” in 2013 and “Whiplash” last year. “Me and Earl’s” victory was even more noteworthy given what many considered one of the stronger U.S. dramatic competitions in recent memory, with strong critical and audience buzz for “Dope,” “The Witch” and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” all of which also received prizes.
In addition to “Me and Earl’s” big wins, the grand jury prize for U.S. documentaries went to another movie about the power of cinema and the creative instinct: “The Wolfpack,” Crystal Moselle’s intimate portrait of the Angulo siblings, who alleviated their confined existence by watching and reenacting movies.
First-time helmer Robert Eggers took the directing honors for “The Witch,” an artful 17th-century New England horror tale, while the Waldo Salt screenwriting award went to Tim Talbott for “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s dramatic reconstruction of the eponymous 1971 study conducted by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo. As announced on Wednesday, Alvarez’s film also received the $20,000 Alfred P. Sloan feature film prize, presented annually to a film that focuses on science or technology as a theme.
A special jury award for collaborative vision went to director Jennifer Phang and screenwriter Jacqueline Kim for their dystopian sci-fier “Advantageous.” Special jury awards were given to editor Lee Haughen for his work on “Dope,” Rick Famuyiwa’s energetic Los Angeles-set teen caper, and to d.p. Brandon Trost for his lensing on “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Marielle Heller’s ’70s-set drama about a young woman’s sexual awakening.
The audience award went to “Meru,” Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi’s harrowing chronicle of three elite mountain climbers aiming to reach the titular summit. A directing prize was presented to Matthew Heineman for “Cartel Land,” about Mexico’s drug wars.
Several special jury awards were handed out in the docu competition, including one for social impact to “3 1/2 Minutes,” Marc Silver’s timely film about the 2012 shooting death of African-American teenager Jordan Davis; for verite filmmaking to “Western,” Bill and Turner Ross’ portrait of two small cattle towns on opposite sides of the Texas-Mexico border; for breakout first feature to “(T)error,” Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s investigation into the FBI’s use of confidential informants in the war on terror; and for cinematography to Heineman and Matt Porwoll for “Cartel Land.”
In the World Cinema dramatic competition, the grand jury prize went to “Slow West,” Scottish filmmaker John Maclean’s Western starring Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee, while the audience award was given to “Umrika,” Prashant Nair’s drama about a rural Indian youth’s trek to Mumbai in search of his missing brother.
The directing award went to Lithuanian helmer Alante Kavaite for her teen love story “The Summer of Sangaile.” Acting prizes were awarded to Jack Reynor for his performance as a man looking after his alcoholic mother in Gerard Barrett’s “Glassland,” and to Regina Case and Camila Mardila for their performances in “The Second Mother,” Anna Muylaert’s film about life in a Sao Paulo household. A special award for cinematography was awarded to Germain McMicking for his lensing on Ariel Kleiman’s “Partisan.”
In the World Cinema documentary competition, the grand jury prize was awarded to “The Russian Woodpecker,” Chad Gracia’s inquiry into the Chernobyl disaster as seen through the eyes of the Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich. The audience award was presented to “Dark Horse,” Louise Osmond’s film about how the residents of a small Welsh village banded together to breed a prize-winning race horse.
The directing prize was handed to British helmer Kim Longinotto for “Dreamcatcher,” her film about the pioneering work of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute in Chicago. Three special jury awards were also presented: one for unparalleled access to “The Chinese Mayor,” Zhou Hao’s portrait of Geng Yanbo, the mayor of Datong, a city in China’s Shanxi province; one for impact to “Pervert Park,” Frida and Lasse Barkfors’ portrait of sex offenders; and one for editing to Jim Scott for “How to Change the World,” Jerry Rothwell’s film about the founding of the Greenpeace movement.
The Best of Next audience award was given to “James White,” an emotionally raw portrait of a New York slacker and his difficult relationship with his cancer-riddled mom. The film marks the directing debut of Josh Mond, the producer of films including “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Simon Killer” and “Afterschool.”
Earlier in the week, the Sundance Institute/NHK Award for a visionary emerging filmmaker was presented to French helmer Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, whose short film “Rabbit” screened in competition at the festival. A special mention was awarded to Japanese director Hiroshi Kurosaki’s “Prometheus Fire.” Recipients of the Sundance Institute’s Global Filmmaking Award were Saudi Arabia’s Haifaa Al Mansour for “Be Safe I Love You”; Somalia’s K’naan for “The Poet”; Ukraine’s Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy (“The Tribe”) for “Luxembourg”; and Germany’s Oskar Sulowski for “Rosebuds.”
The ceremony was hosted by standup comedian Tig Notaro, who noted that she used to be a Sundance volunteer in the mid- to late ’90s. She took the opportunity to tell the first joke she ever wrote, when she was 6 years old: “What consists of a naval army? Belly buttons.”
Notaro is the subject of Ashley York’s in-competition documentary “Tig,” one of several comedy docs at this year’s festival, including Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Call Me Lucky” and Kevin Pollak’s “Misery Loves Comedy.”
The full list of winners:
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
Audience Award: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
Directing: Robert Eggers, “The Witch”
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Tim Talbott, “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Brandon Trost, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Special Jury Award for Excellence in Editing: Lee Haughen, “Dope”
Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision: Jacqueline Kim and Jennifer Phang, “Advantageous”
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “The Wolfpack”
Directing: Matthew Heineman, “Cartel Land”
Audience Award: “Meru”
Special Jury Award for Social Impact: “3 1/2 Minutes”
Special Jury Award for Verite Filmmaking: “Western”
Special Jury Award for Breakout First Feature: “(T)error”
Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Matthew Heineman and Matt Porwoll, “Cartel Land”
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Slow West”
Audience Award: “Umrika”
Directing: Alante Kavaite, “The Summer of Sangaile”
Special Award for Cinematography: Germain McMicking, “Partisan”
Acting: Jack Reynor, “Glassland”; Regina Case and Camila Mardila, “The Second Mother”
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “The Russian Woodpecker”
Audience Award: “Dark Horse”
Directing: Kim Longinotto, “Dreamcatcher”
Special Jury Award for Unparalleled Access: “The Chinese Mayor”
Special Jury Award for Impact: “Pervert Park”
Special Jury Award for Editing: Jim Scott, “How to Change the World”
Best of Next Audience Award: “James White”
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: “The Stanford Prison Experiment”