Sundance Film Fest 2014: Whiplash Top Winner

“Whiplash,” Damien Chazelle’s drama starring Miles Teller as a young jazz drummer and J.K. Simmons as his 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 Fest.

Coming on the heels of last year’s double-fisted win for “Fruitvale Station” (then titled “Fruitvale”), “Whiplash’s” triumph marks the second year in a row that the top two prizes for an American narrative feature have gone to the same film.

“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. Sony Classics acquired distribution rights to “Whiplash,” which began life as a short film that won a special jury prize at the 2013 Sundance fest.

The grand jury prize for U.S. documentaries went to Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s “Rich Hill.” Michael Rossato-Bennett’s “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory,” about the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients through music, received the audience award in that category.

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, and to “Watchers of the Sky,” Edef 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 went 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.

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.

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. 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″

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Dramatic): Craig Johnson, “The Skeleton Twins”

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”