American Splendor is based on the life of Harvey Pekar, a VA hospital worker in Cleveland who spends his days reading, writing and listening to jazz. When his friend Robert Crumb earns wide acclaim for comic art, Harvey is inspired to write his own brand of comic books, making the monotonous torture of his everyday foibles their focus.
Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans is based on a seemingly typical, upper-middle-class Jewish family in Great Neck, New York, whose world is instantly transformed when the father and his youngest son are arrested and charged with shocking and horrible crimes.
Both American Splendor and Capturing the Friedmans told their stories using home videos and a crop of fresh young stars.
Best director honors went to Catherine Hardwicke for Thirteen, which revolves around a 13-year-old whose quest to befriend her high school's most popular girl lead her down a self-destructive path of drug use and sexual experimentation.
The festival this year was flanked with stars, causing veteran festivalgoers to question whether Sundance was still a relevant film forum outside the Hollywood studios.
Festival director Geoff Gilmore, however, defended the event at Saturday night's awards ceremony, saying Sundance remains committed to finding unique voices in the cinema.
"Passionate, personal storytelling is what we're truly here to celebrate," Gilmore said, thanking festival participants "for making films that matter."