The inevitable occurred Saturday night as Damien Chazelle accepted the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for “La La Land” from last year’s winner, A.G. Inarritu. The DGA winner is usually a pretty certain match with the Oscar for the Best Director — the winner has not gone on to take the Academy Award only seven times. (The most recent example: in 2012 non-Oscar directing nominee Ben Affleck won the DGA Award for “Argo,” while Ang Lee won the Oscar for “Life of Pi.”)
Chazelle beat fellow first-time DGA and Oscar nominees Barry Jenkins (presented by his charming trio of stars in $1.5 million “Moonlight”), Kenneth Lonergan (introduced by “Manchester By the Sea” star Casey Affleck) and Denis Villeneuve (tributed by Amy Adams of “Arrival”).
“Film is a universal language,” Chazelle said, recalling how the French New Wave directors fell in love with Hollywood sans sub-titles. He also called out Oscar-nominated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman”), who refused after President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban to attend the Oscars. “Movies are powerful because they speak to everyone.”
Winning the new DGA Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film was the fifth DGA Feature nominee Garth Davis for “Lion,” who wisely brought young Sunny Pawar to liven up the three-hour ceremony.
Continuing his sweep of awards, Ezra Edelman accepted Best Documentary Directing for ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America” from Cuba Gooding Jr., saying “that’s as close as I’m getting to O.J.”
Per usual these days, politics took center stage at the DGA Awards, as president Paris Barclay reminded how many immigrants and refugees like Rouben Mamoulian and Billy Wilder made Hollywood great. “The DGA is and always will be a home for all directors,” he said. The packed house at the Beverly Hilton ballroom gave him a rousing standing ovation. Tina Mabry took advantage of her winner’s spotlight for directing Amazon Children’s Program “An American Girl Story,” set in the 50s. She is getting worried “that 1953 is starting to resemble 2017,” she said. “Love has to and will always win.”
Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Direction was Ridley Scott, who was nominated last year for “The Martian.” He cited Orson Welles as his inspiration for wanting to direct, something he did not do on the feature film side until he was 40, with period drama “The Duellists.” Christopher Nolan and “Alien: Covenant” stars Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup presented the award, reminding that Scott had survived directing Russell Crowe in five films. Crowe supplied the voiceover to the Scott clip reel.
Dramatic Series director went to Miguel Sopochnik for “Battle of the Bastards” on “Game of Thrones.” Steve Zaillian won Mini-Series for “The Night Of.” Becky Martin won Best Series Comedy Director for HBO’s “Veep.”
Longtime DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth accepted the DGA Presidents Award. Thomas Schlamme took home the 2017 Robert B. Aldrich Award recognizing extraordinary service to the Guild. And Marie Cantin won the 2017 Frank Capra Achievement Award for her career and service to the DGA.