This awards season has shined a major spotlight on politics, with powerful speeches from big names like Meryl Streep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mahershala Ali, David Harbour, and Taraji P. Henson. The 2017 Directors Guild of America Awards were no exception. While there were certainly moments of humor, political and otherwise, throughout the presentation — Veep‘s Anna Chlumsky, for example, read a note from “the makers of reality television” that said, “Sorry about that guy from The Apprentice. Our bad.” — some speeches took a more serious approach, calling for action and speaking to the power of film to teach and unite. Below are relevant snippets from the night’s five standouts.
Paris Barclay — DGA President
“I would not personally be standing in this room on this stage, I wouldn’t be here at all, if not for immigrants,” he said while kickstarting the presentation before turning to some early members like William Wyler and Billy Wilder. “They and many others are woven into the fabric of the Directors Guild — foreign directors sharing their stories that became America’s stories. The DGA [continues] that tradition today through a huge international membership that increases every year. It’s more than a thousand, and this open exchange of ideas is who we are. It’s what motion pictures and television are increasingly about, so drawing together humanity is kind of what we do, transcending borders is kind of what we live for, showing a culture to other cultures and sharing it is kind of what we’re about, from Kurosawa to Iñárritu…We [believe] in international, our members are international, our audiences are international and our work, your work, touches lives across the globe.
The DGA is, and always will be, a home for all directors, so let me put as fine a point as I can on it without really going crazy. That is what we think greatness — greatness — is really about and if anyone, if any person, or any group of people, in the name of greatness chooses to block…or to scapegoat or to separate or to divide the very people who are all about bringing people together, then we’re going to stand with those people. We’re going to stand with the people who are like our forefathers and like our foremothers, who sought to tell their stories with compassion and understanding and empathy. That’s exactly like the films you’re seeing tonight. I think what you do and what you’ve done by telling stories is to bridge these gaps and to show the world who we are and what we want to be, and I know I personally wouldn’t be a married man today if not for Will & Grace and before that Pedro Zamora on The Real World and before that Arthur Hiller’s Making Love. The things that you’ve contributed to society have [enabled] change…and tonight if you hear one thing at all, I say we have to keep doing that. The world desperately needs our stories. They desperately need to be convinced that there’s a better way.”
Damien Chazelle — Winner of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for La La Land
“This means a special amount to me. I’m a movie maker because I’m a movie lover, really first and foremost — that’s how I started, was 3-years-old watching Cinderella on a loop — and I think early on I kind of decided or felt that movies are powerful because they speak to everyone. They speak to all countries, all cultures,” Chazelle explained early in the night while accepting his nomination medallion. “When I was a little older, I discovered the French New Wave and that was a major moment for me because my dad is French, but I also saw it as this moment in history where a bunch of filmmakers looked outside their own borders…American movies and Italian movies, and they kind of smashed them together and made their own very French versions and there’s something incredibly beautiful about that to me. I felt like that kind of transnational back-and-forth dialogue was actually maybe the most fertile place for art to come from.
[There’s] one story that I really loved about those filmmakers. It may or may not be true — doesn’t really matter; it’s a good story. It’s that when they were first watching American movies coming into France after the liberation, most of the prints coming in didn’t have subtitles and most of these French kids didn’t speak any English, so they were watching Howard Hawks movies, Hitchcock movies, John Ford movies without any idea what the characters were saying, any idea what was going on in terms of the plot, could not understand the language that was coming out of the characters’ mouths, but they understood something that I think was much more important: They understood what the language of the movies actually was, what the language of the filmmakers was, and that’s the language of cinema, the way the filmmakers were using that language. If anything, it actually helped them understand it even more clearly and see what Hawks and Hitchcock, people who had been undervalued in their own country, were doing. So that says a lot to me, that idea that cinema is a universal language. It certainly says a lot to me right now.
I’ve learned from movies my whole life. I kind of dreamed that La La Land would be kind of like my own American answer to the French answer to American musicals, if that makes any sense. But whether or not that worked out, I’ve learned from movies every day of my life from all over the world. I’ve learned from the movies of Asghar Farhadi…I’ve learned from the movies of everyone of the four directors who I’m lucky to be nominated alongside: Barry, Kenny, Garth, Denis. Those are directors making films that were the kind of films that made me want to be a movie maker when I was young and I think they’re the kind of films that still have that effect that can be shown to some small-town kid somewhere in the world and make them point to the screen and say I want to do that. I think that’s the most beautiful idea of all, that art can make someone anywhere in the world feel like the world is a little bit bigger than they ever imagined, so it’s a huge honor for me to be included in that lineup. I want to thank the DGA. I want to thank those filmmakers for inspiring me every day and reminding me why my love of movies will never go away.”
Tina Mabry — Winner of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs for An American Girl Story ‑ Melody 1963: Love Has to Win
“Melody is the kind of story that will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you sing — although you do not want to hear me sing — and it’s also something that we learn from a 10-year-old girl who’s being bullied by her childhood classmate, affectionately called Donald, but the thing we learn from this film is that while we know it’s set 54 years ago, 1953 is starting to resemble 2017…Now the question is, what are we going to do about it? And if it’s about being silent, that’s not the way to go about it. Be vocal, be loud…This is a country that is for everybody…This is the country that made my marriage legal. Remember to always stand up for what’s right, especially when it’s hard or not easy. That’s when it starts to really show, and we may have to remember that every American, no matter what, that you have to follow the words of the 10-year-old little girl in this film, that love has to and will always win.”
Thomas Schlamme — Honored with Robert B. Aldrich Service Award
“I’m a son of two immigrant parents, who as teenagers fled Nazi Germany and ended up in Houston, Texas, of all places. Three years later, my father enlisted in the army. He defended our nation at the end of the war and found himself in a…jeep heading to liberate the camps, the same camps where he would have been held prisoner had he not been able to come to America. My father and my mother both show their gratitude for being an American citizen in many ways. Some of these ways for a young, Jewish kid in Texas with a name like Tommy Schlamme were not so great, like at the start of every one of my Little League Baseball games, my father would be on his feet singing the National Anthem in his thick German accent, loud enough for the Nazis in Germany to still hear him — think Henry Kissinger with a bullhorn.
Short of that embarrassment, their patriotism was one of the greatest gifts they could have given me and my sister, and it truly helped shape how we viewed the world. They had learned firsthand the important lesson that nothing should be taken for granted; therefore, they felt it was their duty and obligation to devote much of their time and resources protecting and serving the many organizations and institutions that have given them so much. Together, they ran a successful business, they were constantly active in many causes, and, most importantly, they were wonderful parents. I know that our country was better having them as citizens and not a day of their lives went by when they weren’t appreciative of the opportunities this country gave them. They never took it for granted.”
Alejandro G. Iñárritu — Presenter for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film category
“Our lives and our civilizations [are] shaped and transformed by the stories that the ones before us told and that we learned,” Iñárritu said after joking that Feature Film nominee Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) had ruined his night by worrying about his work visa, in effect sending the final presenter into a panic attack over his recent green card. Iñárritu claimed the esteemed prize the last two years for The Revenant and Birdman, and also previously discussed politics at the awards. “So now our job, the ultimate question we are forced to ask ourselves always is whether or not our stories are good or bad. Well, we all know the story that is being written now is really, really bad. Actually, it’s a bad remake, one of the worst stories ever told in the last century. The only way we will win and recoup a strong narrative will be by telling good, complex, and truthful, human stories — no alternative facts or false statistics will defeat that, never. And the filmmakers, the amazing filmmakers we celebrate tonight, have done just that, and we are all grateful for it very much. As a filmmaker, as a Mexican — 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, and tonight I am grateful to be able to present this evening’s award for best director of a feature film.”
For more on the 2017 DGA Awards, head here for the full list of winners.