Big Winners From the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
February 4th, 2014

Each year since 1985, the Sundance Film Festival draws thousands of enthusiasts and hopefuls to Park City, Utah for a celebration of dramatic and documentary films. The culmination of the Festival is an awards ceremony, presented in 2014 by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. Along with the audience, jury panels comprised of individuals from the film community select films for a range of awards. Over the years, thousands of films featured at the Festival have gained critical recognition, received commercial distribution and reached worldwide audiences.

The 2014 Sundance Film Festival marked the 30th event of its kind, with presenting sponsors such as Hewlett-Packard, Acura, Sundance Channel, and Chase Sapphire Preferred. The U.S. Grand Jury Documentary Prize was presented by Tracy Chapman to "Rich Hill," a film directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos. In "Rich Hill," kids in rural America face heartbreaking decisions, find comfort in the most fragile of family bonds and dream of a future of possibility.

The U.S. Grand Jury Dramatic Prize was presented by Leonard Maltin to "Whiplash," directed by Damien Chazelle. In this film, under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer pursues perfection at any cost, even his humanity. "Whiplash" was also presented with the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic by William H. Macy.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Documentary Prize was presented by Andrea Nix Fine to "Return to Homs," (Syria, Germany), directed by Talal Derki. In "Return to Homs," the national football team goalkeeper becomes a demonstration leader and singer, and then a fighter. A renowned citizen cameraman is critical, and a pacifist, until he is detained by security forces.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Dramatic Prize was presented by Nansun Shi for "To Kill A Man," (Chile, France) directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras. In "To Kill A Man," when a hardworking family man struggling to make ends meet is mugged by a neighborhood delinquent, his son decides to confront the attacker, only to get himself shot. The attacker's sentence is minimal, heightening the friction.

The Audience Award for U.S. Documentary was presented by William H. Macy to "Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory," directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett. Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken fading minds. Cultural fears of aging are confronted in this documentary.

The Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary was presented by Felicity Huffman to "The Green Prince," (Germany, Israel, United Kingdom) directed by Nadav Schirman. This real-life thriller tells the story of one of Israel's most prized intelligence sources, recruited to spy on his own people. The film is a gripping account of terror, betrayal and unthinkable choices, with a friendship that defies all boundaries.

The Audience Award for World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Felicity Huffman to "Difret," (Ethiopia) directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari. In "Difret," a young attorney operates under the government's radar to help women and children until one legal case exposes everything, threatening her career and survival.

The Audience Award for Best of NEXT was presented by Nick Offerman to "Imperial Dreams," directed by Malik Vitthal. A reformed gangster's devotion to his family and future are put to the test upon his release from prison as he returns to his old stomping grounds.

Other films garnering major awards at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival include:

"The Case Against 8"
"Fishing Without Nets"
"20,000 Dogs on Earth"
"52 Tuesdays"
"The Skeleton Twins"
"Blind"
"Watchers of the Sky"
"E-TEAM"
"Low Down"
"Happiness"
"Lilting"
"The Overnighters"
"Lumiko, the Treasure Hunter"
"Dear White People"
"God Help the Girl"
"We Come as Friends"
"Chapel Perilous"

A total of 54 first-time feature filmmakers premiered their films during the Festival in 2014. During Sundance, 121 feature-length films were presented, representing a total of 37 countries.

The Sundance Film Festival continues to attract the top talent in film from all over the world. Many notable directors experienced their first big break at the Festival, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky and Edward Burns, among others. The Festival also brought wider attention to well-known films like "Saw," "Garden State," "Super Troopers," "The Blair Witch Project," "Reservoir Dogs," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Better Luck Tomorrow," "Clerks," "Thank You for Smoking," "Napoleon Dynamite" and many more favorites. With all the talent showcased at the January 2014 Sundance Film Festival, do not be surprised to see some of this year's big names added to the list above.