Sundance Award Winners and Closing Thoughts

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Movie Awards Season is officially upon us.  The Golden Globes have been handed out, the Oscar Nominations are announced, SAG is doling out some trophies, and The Sundance Film Festival has come to a close, announcing the award winners at a Saturday night ceremony in Utah.

It seems to me like the number of prizes awarded at Sundance increases every year that the festival continues to reign.  According to Wikipedia, there were 8 awards handed out back in 1984.  This year there were 28.  I guess more winners makes everybody happy, and all of those lovely indie flicks get to put that lovely little indie wreath emblem on their poster and proclaim “Winner at Sundance.”  It has the ring of a little league “everybody gets a trophy and nobody gets sad” philosophy, but serves to accomplish the goal of getting more great movies the recognition they need to get sold and seen.

The two most coveted prizes in the feature film categories are the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience award, which were awarded to two films that have been surrounded with praise since the onset of this year’s festival.  The Grand Jury Prize went to Beasts of the Southern Wild, a post-apocalyptic film set in the South which features a six-year-old newcomer directed by a first time director.  Beasts was also awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award.  The Audience Award was given to The Surrogate, a uniquely inspirational film with Helen Hunt and William H. Macy supporting John Hawkes.  They also got the Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting.

As is usually the case, Sundance boasted a great group of fascinating and entertaining documentaries, which in some cases are even more compelling than the narrative films.  Queen of Versailles built a lot of buzz after opening the festival, and ended up with the Directing Award in the Documentary category.  The Audience Award went to Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War, which is about rape in the U.S. Military.  The Grand Jury Prize was awarded to The House I Live in, a documentary about the effect that the war on drugs has on minority communities.

Sundance provides a complete list of all 28 winners on their website, here.

In addition to providing recognition for these movies, Sundance provides an important opportunity for filmmakers to sell their work.  Recent years have seen a lot of films bought and sold at Sundance, with success stories like Little Miss Sunshine making huge headlines.  Unfortunately, a lot of festival purchases fail to produce box office gold (Another Earth, Like Crazy), so there may have been a little more hesitancy on the part of buyers this time around.  But, with options like On Demand providing countless inexpensive platforms for distributors to rent out films, the push for content appears to be growing as quickly as the shrewdness.

When studios and distributors are willing to spend big money on small films, they’re doing it because they think they can make a profit.  The prudent but steady stream of purchases made at Sundance this year (Arbitrage, Queen of Versailles, The Words) bodes well for all filmmakers who can work with modest budgets and without the backing of a major studio.  While those filmmakers may not be guaranteed a juicy deal at the festival, they can usually find some kind of profitable outlet for their work through digital mediums (especially if they grab one of those 28 “Winner” badges).   If a consistent stream of inexpensive, quality movies can be found and picked up at a reasonable price, maybe we’ll be subject to fewer big-budget franchises and and a greater quantity of thoughtful, unique flicks popping up on Netflix in the coming years.  That’s probably just wishful thinking, though, when you consider that 9 of the top 10 grossing movies of last year were sequels.

For more Sundance coverage:

The Five Most Talked About Movies at Sundance

Sundance Opening Weekend Gets Snow, Stars and Deals

Six Intriguing Documentaries Featured at Sundance

Six Exciting New Movies Featured at Sundance

Filed Under: FestivalsFilm

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About the Author: Matt hails from Boston and has a background in Film and Writing. As weather phenomena go, he prefers earthquakes to Nor'easters these days, so he's currently residing in the East Bay. He produced a feature film called "Night Sounds" after graduating from Emerson College, which premiered at a film festival in Massachusetts. Matt continues to write screenplays and work in the film community, while working as a freelance copywriter, editor, and part-time member of the Hound.