Reactions: 2014 Sundance Film Festival Awards

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

The Sundance Institute announced the award winners for its 2014 festival last night. The major ones (i.e. the ones that people pay attention to) were given out as follows:

U. S. Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic: Whiplash
U. S. Grand Jury Prize, Documentary: Rich Hill
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic: To Kill a Man
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, Documentary: Return to Homs

Audience Award, U. S. Dramatic: Whiplash
Audience Award, U.S. Documentary: Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory
Audience Award,World Cinema Dramatic: Difret
Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary: The Green Prince
Audience Award, Best of NEXT: Imperial Dreams

I wasn’t surprised that Whiplash won–it was the only U.S. dramatic competition film that people were talking about in that way at the festival–though it’s not that common for the Grand Jury Prize winner to line up with the Audience Award winner. It’s actually only happened a handful of times in recent history. Interestingly, the year that Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Grand Jury award was not one of those times. (The Surrogate, later retitled The Sessions, won the Audience Award. Was it partially my fault? I only gave Beasts 3 out of 4 stars, for which my friends eternally give me crap.)

My friends saw Rich Hill and said it was good. We would have guessed it would be. My husband put it this way: “The description makes it seem like it isn’t really about anything in particular, so you know if it made it into Sundance it has to be good.” It’s true that the film’s subject matter–three seemingly unremarkable boys on the cusp of adolescence in a small Missouri town–may not be inherently interesting to most. We ended up seeing Jamie Marks Is Dead instead of this film, so we both feel a bit of regret. We also regret seeing Frank instead of To Kill a Man, though there were probably a couple of other choices we would have seen above that one. To Kill a Man sounded like a fairly typical thriller, so we weren’t that eager to watch it. Return to Homs we almost saw. I could imagine it being a riveting documentary with an incredible Q&A session.

I’m a little surprised that The Green Prince won the audience award. Maybe it benefited from an opening night boost.

Then there was a group of other awards, some of which I think Sundance makes up on the spot to fit whatever they feel like celebrating. Still, I was gratified to see that some of the movies we watched won (listed below).

U. S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter / The Octopus Project
U. S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking: The Overnighters
Screenwriting Award, World Cinema Dramatic: Blind / Eskil Vogt
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: I Origins

I would have thought that The Overnighters would have at least won one of the Audience or the Grand Jury Awards. Maybe the Sundance Institute felt compelled to give it something, though what the heck “intuitive filmmaking” means I have no idea. Vogt is known for his screenwriting, so it’s no surprise that Blind won that award. Because the filmmaking process is so opaque to me, sometimes I can’t really differentiate between a good screenplay and a good film. Therefore, a Screenwriting Award is almost as good as a Best Film award in my book. The Alfred P. Sloan prize, on the other hand, awarded to “a feature film that focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character,” seems a bit hokey to me. I Origins won, but I’m not sure it had much competition.

For the rest of the awards, visit Sundance’s press release.