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, and 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. Since 1995, the Slamdance Film Festival has been held in order to provide an alternative venue for low-budget indepdendent films.
NOTE: There was a tie for the Audience Award in 1997 between ‘Hurricane Streets’, aka ‘Hurricane’ (dir. Morgan Freeman) and ‘Love Jones’ (dir. Theodore Witcher).
The Audience Award for Dramatic Feature and Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature have been the same on 7 occasions in the 29 years that both awards have been given:
1999: Three Seasons
2013: Fruitvale Station
2015: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
2016: The Birth of a Nation