Sundance Awards reflects the human experience |

Sundance Awards reflects the human experience

When the Sundance Film Festival announced its feature film winners during an awards ceremony at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse on Saturday, it was clear that the films selected were all about the human experience.

The awards marked the culmination of the 30th Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

Garnering the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize was "Rich Hill," a film about the struggles of a family who live in Rich Hill, Mo.

As Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Tracy Chapman said during the presentation, the film was chosen "for the beauty of this quiet and powerful storytelling, revealing its characters’ dignity in the face of immense challenges."

Cousins and filmmakers Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo seemed dazed as they accepted the award.

"I didn’t think that anybody saw our film," Droz Tragos said. "Wow. I can’t even begin to thank you. We dedicated this to the families in Rich Hill, Missouri, and to the families in our film. Thank you for letting them into your hearts."

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The same sentiment could be said about the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner, "Whiplash."

Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the award to director Damien Chazelle and said it "goes to a film of uncommon skill that showcases two compelling characters and pulses to a dazzling and irresistible beat."

Chazelle came to Sundance last year with a short that would eventually become "Whiplash."

"My first time in Park City was last year with a short and the whole reason why we made the short was because I worte a script about my own experiences as a drummer," he said. "It was impossible to finance because no one wanted to make a movie about a jazz drummer. Without that experience, we wouldn’t be here today."

One of the more poignant moments of the night came when producer Orwa Nyrabia stepped up to accept the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize for Talal Derki’s, "Return to Homs" from juror Andrea Nix Fine.

From 2011 to 2013, Derki and his crews followed the journey of two close friends whose lives had been upended by the battle raging in Syria.

"I just want to say in a few words in the place of thanking everybody that this really gives us hope," Nyrabia said. "It gives us hope that change is possible [and] that we can communicate with each other and our problems are not so strange to the rest of the world.

"The siege is still there and some president can be ousted and some president in another place could change his mind and do something, finally," he said.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize Dramatic prize went to Alejandro Fernández Almendras’ "To Kill a Man," a film about the plight of a father, whose neighborhood has been overrun by thugs.

Almendras accepted the award via video, with this giggling daughter.

"I’m so happy and so grateful for the chance to show the film and to accept this award," he said after some lively back-and-forth with his child.

The audience awards that were given out that night ran the gamut.

The aforementioned "Whiplash" and Zeresanay Berhane Mehari’s "Difret," which is about the marriage abduction epidemic in Ethiopia, took home the U.S. Dramatic and World Cinema Dramatic awards, respectively.

The audience award from World Cinema Documentary went to Nadav Schirman’s "The Green Prince." The film is about an Israeli intelligence officer who is recruited to spy his own people for more than a decade.

And the audience award for Best of Next went to Malik Vitthal’s "Imperial Dreams," a film about a reformed gangster’s devotion to his family in Los Angeles.

One of the best-loved films of the festival, "Alive-Inside: A Story of Music & Memory," garnered the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary Competition.

First-time filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett followed Music & Memory executive director Dan Cohen for three years as he brought iPods and music to those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

After accepting the award from William H. Macy, Rossato-Bennett said his debut at the Sundance Film Festival had been an overwhelming experience.

"[I was overwhelmed] by the beauty and the open hearts other people who saw the film and came forward to share their stories and their struggles they have in their lives," Rossato-Bennett said. "I made this film because [the topic] moved me, and I didn’t realize how big a topic it was. I’m so grateful we’re going to be able to help to bring joy and love and music to a lot of people."

The prestigious Waldo Salt Screenwriting Prize went to Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman for "The Skeleton Twins," a film featuring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as reunited siblings.

Jesse Moss took home the Special U.S. Documentary Special Jury award for his film "The Overnighters" and the Directing Prize for U.S. Documentary was given to Ben Cotner and Ryan White for their film "The Case Against 8," which examined the hot topic of California’s same-sex legislation.

For more information about the Sundance Film Festival, visit