PARK CITY, Utah – The dramatic film “Fruitvale” and the documentary “Blood Brother” won over audiences and Sundance Film Festival judges.
Both American films won audience awards and grand jury prizes Saturday at the Sundance Awards.
“Fruitvale” is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, who was 22 years old when he was shot and killed in a public transit station in Oakland, Calif. First-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the dramatic narrative.
“This project was about humanity, about human beings and how we treat each other; how we treat the people that we love the most, and how we treat the people that we don’t know,” the 26-year-old said as he accepted the final prize of the night. “To get this award means that it had a profound impact on the audience that saw it, on the people that were responsible for picking it up. And this goes back to my home, to the Bay Area, where Oscar Grant lived, breathed, slept, loved, fought, had fun, and survived for 22 years.”
Fox Searchlight founder and Sundance juror Tom Rothman said “Fruitvale” was recognized for “its skilful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency — and for anyone out there who thinks for one second that movies don’t matter and can’t make a difference in the world.
“This will not be the last time you guys walk to a podium,” he added.
Coogler said he felt personally connected to the story because he’s from Oakland and was born the same year as the subject of his film.
“So I’m the same age, same demographic. So when I saw the footage, initially I was heartbroken, frustrated, and the biggest thing was that Oscar looked like us, you know what I mean?” he said. “He looked like any one of my friends — could have been me, could have been them, and these situations happen again and again.”
The U.S. documentary winner, “Blood Brother” follows a young American, Rocky Braat, who moved to India to work with orphans infected with HIV.
“This means so much to so many kids,” director Steve Hoover said as he accepted the award.
Other dramatic winners at the ceremony hosted by actor-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt included Lake Bell, who accepted the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for her directorial debut, “In A World,” and Jill Soloway, who won the directing award for her feature debut, “Afternoon Delight.”
Soloway thanked Bell and the other “lady directors” making their debuts at the festival.
“I feel like we all crossed the street together holding hands,” she said. “We’re all out there together exposing ourselves and I love being here with you guys.”
Cinematographer Bradford Young was recognized for his work in two dramatic films, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Mother of George.”
Documentary winners included Zachary Heinzerling for directing “Cutie and the Boxer” and Matthew Hamachek for editing “Gideon’s Army.”
The Cambodian film “A River Changes Course” won the grand jury prize for international documentary, and a narrative film from South Korea, “Jiseul,” claimed the grand jury prize for dramatic world cinema.
Having a film at Sundance serves as a stamp of approval, Coogler said.
“Audiences trust this film festival more than any other festival in the country,” he said, “and they know if a film plays here, it’s a film that should be seen.”
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy .