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La La Land's Damien Chazelle took home the top prize at the 69th annual Directors Guild of America Awards, held Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The modern-day musical's win, coming in the wake of victories at the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild Awards, further consolidates the Lionsgate film's status as the Oscar front-runner. The DGA honor is considered an especially important Oscar harbinger, since, on all but seven occasions since its inception, the DGA winner has gone on to claim the Academy Award for best director.
Accepting a medallion marking his nomination earlier in the evening, Chazelle testified to his love of movies, saying, "I'm a movie-maker because I'm a movie lover, first and foremost." He went on to say, "Movies are powerful, because they speak to everyone. They speak to all countries, all cultures." Recalling his excitement when he discovered the French new wave cinema, Chazelle likened his own movie to "my own American answer to the French answer to American musicals, if that makes any sense."
Chazelle beat out Moonlight's Barry Jenkins, Manchester by the Sea's Kenneth Lonergan, Arrival's Denis Villeneuve and Lion's Garth Davis for the best feature-film directing award. All five were first-time DGA Award nominees for feature directing.
But Davis didn't go home empty-handed. He won the DGA's best first-time feature directing award for the Weinstein Company release — beating out Deadpool's Tim Miller and The Birth of a Nation's Nate Parker, among others — for the prize, handed out this year for only the second time.
Ezra Edelman added to O.J.: Made in America's awards haul with a best documentary directing prize. The award was presented to him by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr., who both appeared in the dramatic series The People vs. O.J. Simpson: America Crime Story, and Edelman joked that that was "as close as I'm getting to O.J."
Leading the list of TV winners were Miguel Sapochnik, who took home the prize for best dramatic TV series direction for staging the massive "The Battle of the Bastards" episode of HBO's Game of Thrones; Becky Martin, in the comedy series category, for the "Inauguration" episode of HBO's Veep; and writer-turned-director Steven Zaillian, in the movies for TV/miniseries category, for HBO's The Night Of.
In the various presentations and acceptance speeches, there were not as many political broadsides directed at President Donald Trump as took place last weekend at the Producers Guild and SAG Awards, but the travel ban, imposed by executive order but currently stayed, was clearly on the mind of a number of the speakers.
The DGA issued a statement on Tuesday that read in part that the guild "strongly believes that artists — regardless of their national origin, faith or gender — should be able to come to the United States to showcase their work. Policies that prevent this, without due consideration, should be of concern to all who care about art and cinema. The open exchange of art is core to who we are, it's what motion pictures and television are increasingly about — drawing humanity together, transcending borders and cultures." And in his opening remarks, DGA president Paris Barclay said, "I wouldn't be here at all if it were not for immigrants," noting that immigrant filmmakers, many of them fleeing from Europe, were instrumental in the founding of the guild.
That theme was picked up by others. Thomas Schlamme, who was honored with the DGA's Robert B. Aldrich Service Award, which was presented to him by his wife, actress Christine Lahti, paid tribute to his parents, saying, "I'm the son of two immigrant parents who as teenagers fled Nazi Germany."
In his turn at the podium, Chazelle said, "I've learned from the movies of Asghar Farhadi," referencing the Iranian director who has said because of the travel ban he will not attend the Oscars, even though his film The Salesman has been nominated as best foreign-language film.
Arrival's Canadian director Villeneuve drew applause when he said that "as a foreigner, I never felt as welcome and respected as I have been in the United States," although he admitted for the last few days he's checked every morning to see if his visa is still legal.
Alejandro G. Inarritu, on hand to present the best feature directing award, which he won the last two years running for Birdman and The Revenant, said, "As a filmmaker, as a Mexican, as a human being first and foremost, I feel incredibly proud, honored and humbled to have been recognized by this amazing, inclusive and diverse guild."
Tina Mabry, who received the award for best children's programs for Amazon's An American Girl Story — Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, was greeted with cheers as she exhorted the crowd to stand up to bullies. "Be vocal, be loud," she said, "This is a country that's for everybody."
Also on the night, Christopher Nolan, Billy Crudup and Michael Fassbender joined forces to lionize Ridley Scott, who was honored with the DGA's Lifetime Achievement Award in Feature Film. Barclay was joined by four previous DGA presidents — Taylor Hackford, Michael Apted, Martha Coolidge and Gene Reynolds — to present Jay D. Roth, the guild's national executive director for the past 22 years, with the Presidents Award, an honor that has only been given out on three previous occasions. And Gale Anne Hurd presented the Frank Capra Achievement Award to Marie Cantin.
A full list of this year's winners follows.