The Sundance Film Festival is held every January in Salt Lake City, Utah, to promote and celebrate the year’s greatest achievements in the independent film industry.  In the past, movies like “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Reservoir Dogs” have gained notoriety because of their inclusion at the festival.  It’s likely that new great movies will rise to public awareness this year.  Here are some of this year’s greatest hits.

Whiplash

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this film played on the festival’s opening night apparently  and wowed the entire audience.  “Whiplash” stars the new indie heartthrob Miles Teller as a college student who dreams of becoming the core drummer in the nation’s greatest jazz ensemble.  J.K. Simmons stars as his emotionally unstable mentor who drives him to seek perfection.  This movie explores themes of loss of passion and determination to succeed and became the winner of both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award and is playing at select theaters now.

Rich Hill

Directed and produced by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palmero, this documentary became one of the most emotionally powerful additions this year.  “Rich Hill” follows three boys from rural Missouri who have grown up in impoverished conditions.  The film details their hope to overcome dire situations and their passion for both family and life.  As an audience, we learn that money does not directly correlate with happiness, but through love of others and hope for the future, life becomes beautiful.  This movie won the U.S. Documentary Award and is playing at select theaters now.

Dear White People

This satire written and directed by Justin Simien quickly became one of the funniest and most groundbreaking films at the festival.  “Dear White People” contains stories of four black students attending an Ivy League University and chronicles the issues they face.  The central conflict revolves around an annual party with an “African American” theme and how the four students react to it.  This film provides commentary on the blatant discrimination in the education system, the white-washing in media and the identity crisis these factors have caused among an entire race of people.  This film won the Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Talent and opened on January 18 in select theaters.

20,000 Days on Earth

From directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard comes a dark, witty look inside the mind of songwriter Nick Cave.  While “20,000 Days on Earth” is a fictional movie, it is formatted similarly to a biographical documentary, with a therapist substituted for an interviewer and breathtaking concert footage.  This film takes a deep, psychological look into one of the most interesting and intelligent minds in the world of rock.  Any fan of music or writing would appreciate the care, precision and accuracy this film exudes.  This film won both Best Directing and Best Editing in the World Cinema Documentary category and is playing at select theaters now.