Although the Sundance Film Festival began in 1978 as the Utah/U.S. Film Festival, it was only in 1981 that it moved from Salt Lake City to its current location in Park City and moved from September to January in the calendar. In 1985, the Sundance Institute took charge of organizing the festival, and in 1989 the festival gave its first Audience Awards for Best Dramatic Feature and Best Documentary Feature. At that time, there were still relatively few films in competition and relatively few awards.
In 1991, the festival formally became the Sundance Film Festival (though it is commonly referred to as just “Sundance”). It has continued to grow in the quarter-century since then, to the point that the original focus on low-budget independent American film has been significantly diluted. As a result, the Slamdance Film Festival was created in 1995 to provide an alternative venue for low-budget independent films.
NOTE: Two films tied for the Audience Award for Documentary Feature on two occasions:
1995: Ballot Measure 9 (dir. Heather MacDonald); Unzipped (dir. Douglas Keeve)
2001: Dogtown and Z-Boys (dir. Stacy Peralta); Scout’s Honor (dir. Tom Shepard).
The Audience Award for Documentary Feature and the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature have been the same on five occasions in the 31 years that both awards have been given (1989-2019):
1989: For All Mankind
1991: American Dream
1996: Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern
2006: God Grew Tired of Us
2013: Blood Brother