PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Love story “Like Crazy” and assisted suicide documentary “How to Die in Oregon” won the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, putting both on the list of must-see independent movies for 2011.
“Like Crazy,” directed by Drake Doremus, picked up the jury prize for best drama with its tale of an American woman and British man who fall in love for the first time but move away from each other, testing their relationship.
Doremus, accepting his award, said it is “about love never dying and being with you for the rest of your life.” The movie also earned a special prize for its actress, Felicity Jones.
The documentary winner, “How to Die in Oregon,” has been among the most talked about movies at Sundance 2011, with its examination of assisted suicide and its footage of a terminally ill woman taking an overdose of drugs and literally dying on camera.
Special juries of industry professionals vote on winners, and those are considered the top prizes, but audiences also vote for their favorites.
The Audience Award for best drama went to “Circumstance,” which tells of two Iranian teenagers who fall in love but are not allowed to be together due to cultural influences.
“The cast and the crew have given up a lot to do this (movie) because we believe in the story, and we believe in human rights and artistic expression,” said “Circumstance” director Maryam Keshavarz when accepting her trophy.
The Audience Award for documentary was given to “Buck,” a revealing tale of animal trainer Buck Brannaman, who was the inspiration for the film “The Horse Whisperer.”
Other top prizes went to John Foy, director of documentary “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles,” and to Sean Durkin for directing drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
Sundance, which is backed Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute for filmmaking is the largest U.S. gathering for independent movies, and winners here will go on to become some of the most talked about films in art houses.
Last year’s Sundance jury winners included drama “Winter’s Bone” and documentary “Restrepo,” and both are nominated this year for Oscars.
Sundance 2011 has proven to be exceptionally strong, audiences and filmmakers seem to agree. “This year, what has excited me, is I think the quality is increasing in diversity and is increasing in depth” of artistry, Redford told Reuters.
He said that three years ago, the Sundance Institute set out to get back to its roots of supporting alternative voices in cinema and he felt like this year that strategy paid off.
In addition to prizes for U.S. films, Sundance also gives awards in world cinema. The Danish/Norwegian co-production “Happy, Happy,” about a woman engaging in an extramarital affair, won the jury prize for best drama, and Afghanistan war film “Hell and Back Again,” was the jury’s pick for best documentary.
“Hell and Back Again” director Danfung Dennis also won the prize for best cinematography. “This is for those that didn’t come back ... It’s something that we need to keep thinking about, remember those who didn’t come back.”
Best directing for world cinema documentary went to Oscar winner James Marsh for his “Project Nim,” a movie about a chimpanzee who teaches audiences about humanity.
The Audience Award for the festival’s top drama went to Rwandan genocide movie “Kinyarwanda,” and for best documentary to “Senna” about Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna.
In other awards, the unconventional love story “Tyrannosaur” picked up two world cinema awards, a special jury prize and best directing for its maker Paddy Considine.
Editing by Philip Barbara