The movie, acquired earlier this week by Fox Searchlight for a record-shattering $17.5 million, won the grand jury prize and the audience award at the prestigious festival held in Park City, Utah.
The dual awards mark a major victory for filmmaker Nate Parker, who wrote and directed the movie about Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in 1831.
It also comes at a time when Hollywood is under fire for its lack of diversity in the list of actors and filmmakers nominated for Oscars this year.
“Thank you, Sundance, for creating a platform for us to grow, in spite of what the rest of Hollywood is doing,” Parker, who is black, said as he accepted the grand jury prize for his film already being touted for a 2017 Oscar.
The US documentary grand jury prize was awarded to “Weiner,” a behind-the-scenes portrait of disgraced US politician Anthony Weiner as he attempts a comeback by running for mayor of New York.
The audience award in that category went to “Jim: The James Foley Story,” a documentary about the US journalist slain by the Islamic State group in 2014.
In the world cinema category, the grand jury prize for a drama went to “Sand Storm,” an Israeli film that follows the struggle of women in a Bedouin village, while the audience award went to “Between Sea and Land,” a Colombian movie about a man afflicted with an illness that confines him to his bed, and his mother who cares for him.
Both the audience and grand jury prizes for foreign documentary went to “Sonita,” about an 18-year-old Afghan refugee illegally living in Tehran and who dreams of becoming the next Rihanna.
The Sundance Film Festival founded by actor Robert Redford is considered a showcase for independent and documentary films and festival winners often go on to receive critical acclaim and Hollywood awards season glory.
Last year, the crop of movies shown at the festival yielded “Brooklyn,” which is up for three Oscars next month, including best picture and best actress for its Irish star Saoirse Ronan.
Here is a full list of prize winners from Saturday’s awards:
– US DRAMA –
Grand Jury Prize: “The Birth of a Nation”
Directing: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for “Swiss Army Man”
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Chad Hartigan for “Morris from America”
Special Jury Award: “As You Are”
Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance: Joe Seo for “Spa Night”
Special Jury Award for Individual Performance: Melanie Lynskey in “The Intervention” and Graig Robinson in “Morris in America”
Audience Award: “The Birth of a Nation”
– US DOCUMENTARY-
Grand Jury Prize: “Weiner”
Directing: Roger Ross Williams for “Life, Animated”
Special Jury Award for Editing: Penny Lane and Thom Stylinski for “Nuts!”
Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking: “Trapped”
Special Jury Award for Writing: “Kate Plays Christine”
Special Jury Award for Verite Filmmaking: “The Bad Kids”
Audience Award: “Jim: The James Foley Story”
– WORLD CINEMA DRAMA –
Grand Jury Prize: “Sand Storm”
Special Jury Award for Acting: Vicky Hernandez and Manolo Cruz for “Between Sea and Land”
Award for Screenwriting: Ana Katz and Ines Bortagaray for “Mi Amiga del Parque”
Unique Vision and Design: Agnieszka Smoczynska for “The Lure”
Audience Award: “Between Sea and Land”
– WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY –
Grand Jury Prize: “Sonita”
Directing: Michal Marczak for “All These Sleepless Nights”
Special Jury Award for Debut Feature: Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel for “When Two Worlds Collide”
Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Pieter-Jan De Pue for “The Land of the Enlightened”
Special Jury Award for Editing: Mako Kamitsuna and John Maringouin for “We Are X”
Audience Award: “Sonita”