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'Whiplash,' 'Rich Hill' win top honors at Sundance Film Festival

Musical drama "Whiplash" and documentary "Rich Hill," about inhabitants of a poverty-stricken rural U.S. town, took top honors at the Sundance Film Festival awards on Saturday, a key accolade for independent films to find a wider audience.

"Whiplash," the opening night film starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, enticed audiences with its heart-racing story of a jazz drummer in an obsessive pursuit of perfection in his craft. The film won both the audience and grand jury awards in the U.S. drama competition.

The awards were a big win for 28-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle, who won the U.S. fiction short film grand jury prize last year at Sundance with a short version of "Whiplash," which he then made into a feature film for this year.

"I remember my first time here was with a short, and the whole reason we made a short was because of my experiences as a drummer," Chazelle said. "No one wanted to finance the film because no one wants to make a film about a jazz drummer, surprising," he added with a laugh.

The film has been snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics for $3 million, and could follow the path of its Sundance predecessors such as 2010's "Winter's Bone" and 2012's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which both won the grand jury dramatic prize and subsequently landed Oscar nods.

The grand jury U.S. documentary prize went to "Rich Hill," which explored the lives of three adolescent boys living in the rural Missouri town of Rich Hill, who try to overcome the struggles of poverty.

"This is a small film but it's got a big heart and we dedicate it to the families of Rich Hill, Missouri, and the families in this film; the three boys and their families who were so brave and so lovely to let us into their lives and to trust us and reveal some stuff that was so tough," co-director Tracy Droz Tragos said.

The U.S. documentary audience award went to "Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory," which explores the effect of music on elderly patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

"This has been an overwhelming experience for me," director Michael Rossato-Bennett said. "I just made this film because it moved me, I didn't realize how big a topic it was."

The Sundance Film Festival hands out 28 awards at a ceremony broadcast live online, this year hosted by comedian couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally.

The annual Sundance Film Festival, backed by actor-filmmaker Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, is the top U.S. independent film festival. This year's edition began on January 16 and will wrap on Sunday.

In the world film competition categories, Chilean-French entry "To Kill A Man" picked up the grand jury prize for drama. Syrian-German entry "Return to Homs," a story of two young men whose lives are turned upside down by the Syrian civil war, landed the grand jury documentary prize.

Source: Reuters

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