Chazelle gained attention for his semi-autobiographical script by making a short film of one intense scene. The short played at Sundance a year ago, won a prize, and got the attention of financiers.
Winning the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary competition was "Rich Hill," an on-the-ground look at poverty through the lives of three teens living in a rural Missouri town.
"I didn't think anybody saw her film," said Tracey Dros Tragos, who co-directed "Rich Hill" with her cousin, Andrew Droz Palermo. "We've got a small film, but it's got a big heart."
"Rich Hill" came through the Sundance Institute's Documentary Editing and Story Lab this summer.
Michael Rossato-Bennett's "Alive Inside" won the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary. The film spotlights a program to give iPods to nursing-home residents suffering from Alzheimer's, who light up when they hear the music of their youth.
"Alive Inside" received standing ovations in Park City, with audience members eager to offer ways to contribute to the music program.
"I am so grateful we are going to be able to bring joy and beauty and music to people who wouldn't have gotten it," Rossato-Bennett said.
Among the people Rossato-Bennett thanked was Geralyn White Dreyfous, founder of the Utah Film Center and one of the creators of Impact Partners, which gives finishing funds to movies about pressing social issues.
The Grand Jury prizes in the World Cinema categories went to the Chilean drama "To Kill a Man," about a man seeking revenge on the thug who shot his son, and the Syrian documentary "Return to Homs," which follows two friends whose city is put under siege by the Assad regime.
Audience awards in World Cinema were given to the Ethiopian drama "Difret," about a woman lawyer taking on a young girl's controversial case, and the German-Israeli-British documentary "The Green Prince," a real-life spy story about a leading Hamas member who spied for Israel.
Filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White won the Directing Prize for U.S. Documentary for "The Case Against 8," an inside look at the legal battle to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage.
Cotner and White both thanked the two couples who were plaintiffs in that case, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court and established a precedent cited in the overturning of Utah's gay-marriage ban.
In thanking the California plaintiffs, White said, "we hope all LGBT Americans can soon walk in the same footsteps you did."
Cutter Hodierne won the Directing Prize for U.S. Dramatic films, for his Somali pirate drama "Fishing Without Nets" another movie that started as a Sundance short, winning top honors in 2012.
A tearful Hodierne walked to the platform with two of the Kenyan actors who played Somalis in his film. "If they could speak English, they would really be talking now," Hodierne said.
Indeed, one of the Kenyans shouted enthusiastically, his arms raised in a victory salute, "I love you, everybody!"
The U.S. Documentary entry "Watchers of the Sky," which traces the history of genocide over the last century, was a double winner. Jenny Golden and Karen Sim won the Editing Prize, and the movie received a Special Jury Prize for its use of animation.
Another double winner, in the World Cinema Documentary competition, was "20,000 Days on Earth," which profiled uber-cool rocker Nick Cave. That film won for the directing, by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, and for Sally Riley's editing.
Moviegoers will get one more chance to see the award winners, as the filmmakers take their victory laps at screenings in Park City on Sunday, the festival's final day.
Sundance awards winners
Here are the winners of the awards at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival •
Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic • "Whiplash," directed by Damien Chazelle.
Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary • "Rich Hill," directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, Andrew Droz Palermo.
Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema Dramatic • "To Kill a Man" (Chile/France), directed by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras.
Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema Documentary • "Return to Homs" (Syria/Germany).
Audience Award, U.S. Dramatic • "Whiplash," directed by Damien Chazelle.
Audience Award, U.S. Documentary • "Alive Inside," Michael Rossato-Bennett.
Audience Award, World Cinema Dramatic • "Difret" (Ethiopia), directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari.
Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary • "The Green Prince"(Germany/UK/Israel), directed by Nadav Schirman.
Directing Award, U.S. Dramatic • Cutter Hodierne, "Fishing Without Nets."
Directing Award, U.S. Documentary • Ben Cotner, Ryan White, "The Case Against 8."
Directing Prize, World Cinema Dramatic • Sophie Hyde, "52 Tuesdays" (Australia).
Directing Award, World Cinema Documentary • Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard, "20,000 Days on Earth" (UK).
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, U.S. Dramatic • Criag Johnson, Mark Heyman, "The Skeleton Twins."
Screenwriting Award, World Cinema Dramatic • Eskil Vogt, "Blind" (Norway/Netherlands).
Editing Award, U.S. Documentary • Jenny Golden, Karen Sim, "Watchers of the Sky."
Editing Award, World Cinema Documentary • Jonathan Amos, "20,000 Days on Earth" (UK).
Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic • Christopher Blauvelt, "Low Down."
Cinematography Award, U.S. Documentary • Rachel Beth Anderson, Ross Kauffman, "E-Team."
Cinematography Award, World Cinema Dramatic • Ula Pontikos, "Lilting" (UK).
Cinematography Award, World Cinema Documentary • Thomas Balmes, Nina Bernfeld, "Happiness" (France/Finland).
Special Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic, for "breakthrough talent" • Justin Simien, "Dear White People."
Special Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic, for musical score • The Octopus Project, "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter."
Special Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary, for "use of animation" • "Watchers of the Sky," directed by Edet Belzberg.
Special Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary, for "intuitive filmmaking' • "The Overnighters," directed by Jesse Moss.
Special Jury Prize, World Cinema Dramatic, for "ensemble performance, and how the director brought his own unique universe into cinema" • "God Help the Girl" (UK), directed by Stuart Murdoch.
Special Jury Prize, World Cinema Documentary, for "cinematic bravery" • "We Come As Friends" (France/Austria), directed by Hubert Sauper.
Best of Next Audience Award • "Imperial Dreams," directed by Malik Vitthal.
Shorts Audience Award • "Chapel Perilous" (U.S.), directed by Matthew Lessner.