This year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah has opened with a documentary about famed jazz singer Nina Simone.
What Happened, Miss Simone? traces the singer’s life from her early days as a classically trained pianist to her later jazz and blues career.
Nina Somone’s struggles with mental illness and her involvement in the civil rights movement are also covered in the documentary.
The premiere, in Park City, Utah, was followed by a short concert by singer-songwriter John Legend.
“I’m so grateful to be here today honouring the legacy of the wonderful, powerful, dynamic, super-talented Nina Simone,” John Legend told the audience at Thursday’s event.
John Legend, who received an Oscar nomination last week for a song he co-wrote for Martin Luther King biopic Selma, went on to perform three numbers made famous by Nina Simone, who died in 2003.
The latest edition of the annual independent film showcase, which runs until February 1, will feature 118 feature-length documentary and narrative films in its program.
Festival co-founder Robert Redford makes an on-screen appearance himself this year in A Walk in the Woods, an adaptation of the Bill Bryson memoir that will have its premiere later.
Other titles in the line-up include Slow West, a 19th Century western starring Michael Fassbender; True Story, a fact-based crime drama starring James Franco and Jonah Hill; and Grandma, a comedy starring Lily Tomlin that will close this year’s event.
Festival director John Cooper said there had been “a lift in the quality” in submissions, adding that “the wild ride of the festival is going to be felt by the audiences.”
The opening of this year’s event follows the announcement that Sundance London, an offshoot of the festival that ran from 2012 to 2014, will not take place in 2015.
It also comes in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris, something Robert Redford touched upon during a news conference on January 22.
“That was a sad event, it was a shocking event,” he told reporters.
“I also have a hunch it was a bit of a wake-up event.
“Freedom of expression seems to be in danger in a lot of areas,” Robert Redford continued.
“But as far as we’re concerned, we will do everything in our power to keep it alive here.”
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash has won the grand jury prize and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The opening night film, about an obsessive jazz drummer, has now been bought by Sony Picture Classics, which will bring it to a wider audience.
Rich Hill, about a group of teenagers living in a deprived area of rural America, won the documentary prize.
Sundance is the US’s leading indie film festival, backed by Robert Redford’s institute of the same name.
Whiplash‘s writer and director, Damien Chazelle, won the US fiction short film grand jury prize last year at Sundance for his original short version of Whiplash.
Damien Chazelle, 28, then expanded his short to make it into a feature film for this year’s festival.
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash has won the grand jury prize and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival 2014
“I remember my first time here was with a short, and the whole reason we made a short was because of my experiences as a drummer,” Damien Chazelle said.
“No-one wanted to finance the film because no-one wants to make a film about a jazz drummer – surprising,” he jokily added.
Rich Hill co-director Tracy Droz Tragos dedicated the win to the film’s subjects.
The documentary audience award went to Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory, which explores the effect of music on elderly patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The annual film festival, now in its 30th year, opened on January 16 in Park City, and will close on Sunday.
Other awards given out on Saturday included the short film audience prize, sponsored by YouTube and based on the number of online hits each entry had. This year’s prize went to Chapel Perilous, a comedy about a man who is visited by a salesman with nothing to sell.