Alejandro Inarritu has won the top prize at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) awards for The Revenant, adding weight to his chances at the Oscars.
The Revenant, starring Leonardo Di Caprio as a frontiersman fighting for survival, leads the Oscars race with 12 nominations, including best director.
Past DGA award winners have often gone on to claim the best director Oscar and the best film category.
Inarritu won the DGA award for Birdman in 2015 and then won the Oscars double.
The DGA is the industry’s leading group of film and TV directors and its opinion carries a lot of weight.
To date, there have been only seven occasions when the DGA winner has not then won the subsequent Academy Award.
The group also chose Matthew Heineman as best documentary maker for Cartel Land.
Heineman’s film focuses on vigilante groups fighting drug cartels on both sides of the US/Mexican border.
Heineman said: “I hope that this film will give voice to those trapped by the cycle of violence in hopes that one day the cycle will end.”
For Inarritu, Saturday night’s accolade makes the Mexican the first director to win back-to-back DGA awards.
He was notably moved when picking up his trophy at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.
He first acknowledged his father, who died two years ago, saying: “I think he’s getting some business up there to make this happen and I miss him a lot.”
He went on to add: “This hug, this embrace you’re giving to me today is going to a whole country, a whole Latin American community in this country.
“The people who live here contribute a lot to this country.”
Inarritu has already won the Golden Globe for best director for the Revenant and he is nominated for the directing Bafta.
But despite The Revenant’s leading position in the Oscars race, this year the DGA award was considered hard to call as each of the leading industry guilds has championed a different film.
The Producers Guild of America gave its top prize to The Big Short and theScreen Actors Guild award for best ensemble went to Spotlight.
Also at the DGA awards, a new prize was presented this year for first-time feature film director. It was won by Alex Garland for his Oscar-nominated sci-fi film Ex Machina.
In addition to film directors, the DGA also honoured those working in television. David Nutter won the award for a TV drama series for his international fantasy hit Game of Thrones.
Chris Addison won for best TV comedy direction for the political comedy series Veep.
The debate over diversity in Hollywood was on the agenda too at the awards ceremony with the guild’s president bringing it up in his welcome speech.
Paris Barclay said it was important to convince “the industry that equal opportunity means just that”.
“Equal opportunity means a level playing field,” he added.