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"Fruitvale," "Blood Brothers" win top awards at Sundance

Octavia Spencer arrives for the gala presentation of the film "Smashed" at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival, September 12, 2012.
Octavia Spencer arrives for the gala presentation of the film "Smashed" at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival, September 12, 2012.

By Piya Sinha-Roy

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Drama film "Fruitvale" and documentary "Blood Brothers" won the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, giving them a big boost to reach independent movie audiences this year.

"Fruitvale," starring Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan and directed by 26-year-old, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler," picked up the U.S. drama jury and audience awards for its "moral and social urgency."

The film is based on the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was killed by police in Oakland, California, on New Year's Eve in 2008 and whose death sparked riots against police brutality. Movie studio The Weinstein Company purchased distribution rights for the film.

"This film had a profound impact on the audience that saw it ... this award goes out to my home in the Bay Area where Oscar Grant breathed, slept, loved, had fun and survived for 22 years," Coogler said in his acceptance speech.

Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim awarded the U.S. documentary jury prize to "Blood Brothers," saying it shook the voting panel to their core.

The documentary follows an American man who moves to Africa and works with children suffering from HIV at an orphanage, and through his work, the children gain a voice.

"It is so encouraging for the kids ... their lives are so encouraging, and they die and no one remembers their name ... To take their story so that everyone sees it, it's so awesome," director Steve Hoover said."

Young actress Shailene Woodley, praised for her performance in "The Descendants" last year, and her co-star Miles Teller won the Special Jury acting prize in "The Spectacular Now."

Actress Lake Bell, who made her directorial debut in the U.S. drama category with quirky comedy "In A World," picked up the drama screenwriting award.

Hosted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who premiered his raunchy directorial debut "Don Jon's Addiction" this year, the Sundance Film Festival Awards pick winners at the top gathering for independent movies made outside of Hollywood's major studios.

"Sundance is a community of people of filmmakers and film lovers who all believe together that there's more to movies than glitz and glamour and money and the box office. In Hollywood, you can feel like a freak if you talk about movies as art, and here, you don't have that," Gordon-Levitt said.

WORLD CINEMA WINNERS

The Sundance Film Festival, now in its 35th year, is backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. The 10-day gathering of the independent film industry is held in snowy Park City, Utah.

In previous years, films that win the top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival often go on to achieve Hollywood awards success as well.

Last year, mythological drama "Beasts of the Southern Wild" won the top prize at Sundance and is now nominated for four Oscars in major categories.

The award winners are voted for by special juries of industry professionals and by the audience for the audience favorite awards.

In the world cinema categories, South Korean drama "Jiseul" picked up the grand jury drama prize. The film, directed by Muel O, follows the residents of a small town who were forced to hide in a cave for 60 days after the military attacked their village.

Cambodian documentary "A River Changes Course," about three young Cambodians struggling with adversity in a country ravaged by war and debt, picked up the world cinema grand jury award.

"Events like these really bring our communities together to share in the beauty of the world and the beauty of our future," director Kalyanee Mam said.

"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," which follows the story of three members of a Russian feminist punk band jailed for performing a "punk prayer" in a Russian Orthodox church, picked up special jury prize in the world documentary category.

Co-director Mike Lerner said the three members of the band had "started a feminist revolution that we hope will continue around the world."

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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