PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "The House I Live In" won the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, making them likely favorites for independent movie audiences in 2012.
Directed by Benh Zeitlin and set in impoverished Louisiana, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" picked up the jury prize for best drama as well as best cinematography with its poetic tale of the bond between a father and a daughter.
The documentary winner, "The House I Live In," was one of many documentaries at Sundance 2012 that looked at a struggling America at Sundance 2012. It is an examination of America's long war on drugs and critiques of U.S. drug policies, its court system, prisons and their impact on minorities.
"The war on drugs is a terrible scar on America," said director Eugene Jarecki.
Special juries of industry professionals vote on winners, and those are considered the top prizes but audiences also vote for their favorites.
"The Surrogate," which stars Helen Hunt and John Hawkes and is about a man's quest to lose his virginity while mostly confined to an iron lung, won the Audience Award for best drama.
The film, based on the life of poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, fetched one of the highest selling prices at the festival -- a reported $6 million -- and with its mix of comedy and drama could turn out to be one of the bigger U.S. indie hits in cinemas to come out of the festival.
"Love is a journey, that's it," said director Ben Lewin when accepting his trophy, quoting a line from the film.
The Audience Award for documentary was given to "The Invisible War," about an epidemic of sexual assault in the U.S. military and shining a light on a little known problem.
Other documentary special jury prizes went to "Love Free or Die," about the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson; and "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," about the Chinese artist and activist who was detained for 81 days last year.
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" director Alison Klayman took a picture of the crowd upon accepting the award and promised to send it to the Chinese artist, who was spent 81 days in government detention last year and felt it was too risky to attend the festival from China.
Sundance, which is backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute for filmmaking, is the largest U.S. gathering for independent movies. Festival winners go on to become some of the most talked about films in art houses.
Many of the more hyped fictional films for Sundance 2012 did not live up to their buzz, with many including "Red Lights" starring Robert De Niro and Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer" disappointing critics, although films have still sold.
In addition to prizes for U.S. films, Sundance also gives awards in world cinema.
"Searching for Sugar Man," about the search for an obscure 1970s Detroit folk singer known as Rodriguez, won the audience award for best world documentary as well as a special jury prize. It was one of the most popular films of the festival, which served as the d3ebut for documentaries such as "An Inconvenient Truth."
Chile's "Violeta Went To Heaven," based on the life of Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra's journey from a poor upbringing to national hero, won the jury prize for best drama, and "The Law In These Parts" was the jury's pick for best documentary.
Reporting By Christine Kearney; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Bill Trott