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Damien Chazelle Wins Directors Guild’s Top Film Award for ‘La La Land’

Variety logo Variety 2/5/2017 Dave McNary
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Damien Chazelle has won the Directors Guild of America’s top feature film award for the whimsical musical comedy-drama “La La Land.”

Chazelle won over Garth Davis for “Lion,” Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight,” Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea,” and Denis Villeneuve for “Arrival.” Alejandro Inarritu, who nabbed the last two DGA Awards for “The Revenant” and “Birdman,” made the announcement late Saturday night at the conclusion of the 69th Annual DGA Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Chazelle said backstage that he made “La La Land” — which stars Emma Stone as a hopeful actress and Ryan Gosling as a struggling musician falling in and out of love in an idealized Los Angeles — to celebrate the pursuit of artistic dreams.

“I would hope that the movie gives some kind of hope,” he added. “If there’s one message I want to get across, it’s that just chasing those dream — no matter how unrealistic, in fact sometimes because they seem unrealistic — is the most important thing. They may not come true but chasing those dreams sometimes creates a ripple effect. I really do believe that.”

Chazelle pointed out that he began working on “La La Land” seven years ago. “It was a hopeful time in the world, but it was also a time in my life where none of my dreams were coming true,” he noted.

Chazelle won the directing award at the Golden Globes on Jan. 8 for “La La Land” as part of the musical’s sweep. He’s nominated for a best director Oscar alongside Jenkins, Lonergan, Villeneuve, and Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Chazelle’s victory puts him in a strong position to win the Academy Award come Feb. 26. The DGA Award is one of the top indicators of Oscar sentiment, with all but seven of all DGA winners since 1948 going on to take the best director Oscar. The last divergence came in 2013 when Ben Affleck won the DGA Award for “Argo,” even though he didn’t receive an Oscar nom.

Davis won the first-time feature director award for his stirring drama “Lion.” The award was the first announced and presented by John Singleton.

Davis topped Tim Miller for “Deadpool,” Kelly Fremon Craig for “Edge of Seventeen,” Nate Parker for “The Birth of a Nation,” and Dan Trachtenberg for “10 Cloverfield Lane.” “Lion,” starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, and Sunny Pawar, is based on Saroo Brierley’s 2013 book about being separated from his mother in India at the age of 5, being adopted by an Australian family, and re-uniting with his family 25 years later. Kidman and Pawar attended Saturday night’s ceremonies.

Alex Garland won the DGA’s inaugural first-time feature award last year for “Ex Machina.”

Miguel Sapochnik won the drama series award for the “Game of Thrones” episode “The Battle of the Bastards.” Becky Martin of “Veep” received the DGA’s TV comedy series award for the “Inauguration” episode. “Inauguration” won the prize over two episodes of “Silicon Valley,” an episode of “Atlanta,” and the “Mother” ep of “Veep.”

Steven Zaillian received the TV movie-miniseries award for HBO’s crime drama “The Night Of.”

“O.J.: Made in America” nabbed the top documentary feature award from the Directors Guild of America for Ezra Edelman.

The documentary was produced and directed by Edelman for ESPN Films and its “30 for 30” series. “Made in America” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and was released in theaters in May before airing on ABC and ESPN. It won over “The Eagle Huntress,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Life, Animated,” and “Weiner.”

“O.J.: Made in America” is nominated for an Oscar along with “I Am Not Your Negro” and “Life Animated.”

Don Roy King won the variety/talk/news/sports award for the “Saturday Night Live” episode hosted by Dave Chappelle, while Glenn Weiss got the variety/talk/news/sports — specials trophy for the 70th Tony Awards broadcast.

The children’s programming trophy went to Tina Mabry for “An American Girl Story’s” “Melody 1963: Love Has to Win.”

“2017 is starting to resemble 1963. We have a problem and being silent is not the way to go about it. Be vocal, be loud,” she said.

Some of the biggest cheers of the night came when Ridley Scott received the guild’s lifetime achievement award. He gave a 20-minute acceptance speech that concluded with the admonition, “Try not to punch people.”

The night also featured several attacks on President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. In his introductory remarks, DGA President Paris Barclay said, “I wouldn’t be here at all if not for immigrants.” Barclay noted that early DGA members like Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang had fled Germany prior during the Nazi regime.

“We have a huge international membership — more than 1,000 — and this open exchange of ideas is who we are and what motion pictures and television is increasingly about,” he added. “If anyone in the name of greatness chooses to block or to separate or divide, we are going to stand with the people who are like our forefathers and foremothers, who sought to tell stories of compassion and empathy.”

Inarritu, who was vocal at last year’s ceremony about his distaste for Trump’s proposed border wall, blasted him again from the stage.

“We all know the story being written now is really, really bad,” he said. “Actually it’s a bad remake of one of the worst stories of the last century. The only way we win is by telling good, complex, and truthful human stories.”

Anna Chlumsky got one of the bigger laughs of the night when introducing the reality show nominees by reading a purported note from reality show producers: “Sorry about that guy from ‘The Apprentice’ — our bad.”

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