'La La Land's' Damien Chazelle wins Directors Guild prize as politicized Oscar season continues

Saturday night in Beverly Hills, “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle took home the top honor at the 69th annual Directors Guild of America Awards, further cementing his front-runner status going into this month’s Oscars.

“I wrote this movie six years ago in a very different time, in what seemed for me a more hopeful time in the world,” Chazelle said backstage, addressing national anxieties under President Trump that have seeped into Hollywood’s glitzy awards season. “I would hope that the movie gives some kind of hope.”

DGA President Paris Barclay set the tone for a politicized show at the top of the non-televised awards, held inside the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom. In the same room exactly one week ago, the Producers Guild Awards ceremony played host to heightened emotions – and loud boos for the Trump-friendly “The Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett – from the podium.

“The DGA is and always will be a home for all directors,” said Barclay, earning a standing ovation. “If any person or any group of people, in the name of greater greatness, chooses to block, or to prevent, or to scapegoat, or to separate, or to divide the very people who are all about bringing people together, then we are going to stand with those people.”

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Chazelle’s win solidifies his lead in the best director Oscar race, where he’s up against DGA competitors “Moonlight” helmer Barry Jenkins, “Manchester By The Sea’s” Kenneth Lonergan, and “Arrival’s” Denis Villeneuve, as well as “Hacksaw Ridge” director Mel Gibson, who was not nominated for the DGA. 

Winning the DGA award for best dramatic series, “Game of Thrones” director Miguel Sapochnik gave a shout-out to his crew, including cinematographer Fabian Wagner, who won across town at the ASC Awards the same night. Editor Tim Porter won the ACE Eddie award on the same Beverly Hilton stage last week.

Australian director Garth Davis, the only filmmaker nominated in two categories, won the first-time feature Award for “Lion.” Onstage he dedicated the award to the film’s young child actors, including 8-year-old star Sunny Pawar, who ascended a footstool later in the evening to introduce his director alongside co-star Nicole Kidman.

Ezra Edelman nabbed best documentary honors for his eight-hour nonfiction epic “O.J.: Made In America” – a prize presented to him onstage by “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sarah Paulson.

Tina Mabry, a first-time DGA winner in the children’s program category for Amazon’s civil rights era-set “An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has To Win,” delivered the night’s most powerful speech onstage.

“This is a country that is for everybody no matter where you come from or who you are,” Mabry said. “This is a country that made my marriage legal.”

Mabry spurred her audience of fellow directors toward putting concern into action.

“1953 is starting to resemble 2017. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?” she said.

Another of this year’s victorious female DGA winners was “Veep” director Becky Martin, who took home the award for Best Comedy Series for her work on the “Inauguration” episode of the HBO show.

In an additional score for HBO, Steven Zaillian won in the movies for television and miniseries category for directing the crime program “The Night Of.”

Variety/Talk/News/Sports awards went to Glenn Weiss, director of CBS’ “70th Tony Awards” broadcast (Specials) and 11-time nominee Don Roy King, who won for directing “Saturday Night Live” with guest host Dave Chappelle.

Also during the night, Gale Anne Hurd presented the Frank Capra Achievement Award to producer Marie Cantin; Christine Lahti introduced the Robert B. Aldrich Service Award to her husband, “West Wing” producer Thomas Schlamme; and Barclay, Michael Apted, Martha Coolidge, Taylor Hackford and Gene Reynolds presented the DGA Presidents Award to Jay D. Roth.

Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender and Christopher Nolan came onstage to present Ridley Scott with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Scott, citing the night’s many political speeches, declined to add his voice to the conversation: 

“There's been a lot of talk about politics tonight and I'm best off not talking about it," he said.

Plenty of other presenters and winners did opt to take advantage of their platform. Capping the evening, Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu, proudly proclaiming his Mexican nationality, presented the final award to Chazelle with a message to his peers.

“The story being written now is a bad remake … only way we will win and recoup a strong narrative is by telling good complex and truthful human stories,” he said. “No alternative facts or statistics will defeat that.”

Mark.Olsen@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

Jen.Yamato@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @jenyamato

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