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DGA distinguished by diversity

Hot on the heels of his Golden Globe victory for directing, Clint Eastwood picked up his first Directors Guild of America nomination yesterday for “Unforgiven.” His nomination tops a diverse list that includes industry veterans James Ivory for “Howards End,” Robert Altman, for “The Player,” as well as Rob Reiner for “A Few Good Men” and the more offbeat Irish director Neil Jordan for “The Crying Game.”

The 45th annual DGA awards for features, television and commercial work will be held March 6 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and a ceremony in New York earlier that evening.

The nomination for Eastwood, who has a string of awards already in hand, came as no surprise. If he wins, it will mark the fourth victory in the history of the DGA awards for a director who also starred in his film. Previous actor-directors to pick up the prize are Woody Allen for “Annie Hall” in 1977, Warren Beatty for “Reds” in 1981 and Kevin Costner for “Dances With Wolves” in 1990.

“The thing I liked about this story (written by David Webb Peoples) was that it was never predictable,” Eastwood said yesterday from his home in Carmel. “I really felt that it opened so much new ground for westerns and their characters.”

While the nominations include some of the year’s major films, they also point to a burgeoning recognition of the quality of independent productions.

“Ten years ago, you probably would not have seen independent films being nominated,” noted DGA prexy Arthur Hiller. “But now we’re seeing that independent productions have more place for a director’s emotional expression.”

The diversity of this year’s picks could well be summed up with nominee Jordan, whose first-time DGA nod came with a film that many in Hollywood were afraid to back. “After a brief foray of investigating financing here, I found that while people loved the script they were either afraid of backing it or felt it wasn’t worth the trouble,” Jordan said. “It was at that time I decided not to push it. I decided to go without American financing or American distribution.”

That decision was made, in part, to make sure his concept for the film remained unchanged. “A film like this would not have survived intact if it had been financed here,” he said.

Another independent film, “Howards End,” was a difficult project that had been on James Ivory’s docket for several years.

“We were talking about adapting a very complex book that covers quite a period of time,” Ivory said, referring to E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name. “The book had marvelous scenes in it, but too many for a film, so it was quite a job to boil it all down.”

Yet Ivory said scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala managed to give expression to Forster’s ideas, keeping “true to the spirit of the writer and the novel itself.”

“I think the other thing that was a little scary was that we were working with one of the bona fide great novels of the 20th century,” Ivory said.

Reiner’s nomination for “A Few Good Men” is his third as a director, following nods in 1986 for “Stand by Me” and in 1989 for “When Harry Met Sally….”

Altman, who skewered Hollywood’s insider circles with “The Player,” is also a multiple DGA nominee. He was previously tapped in 1970 for “MASH” and in 1975 for “Nashville.”

In responding to this nomination, Altman said only, “I am glad to be in another horse race.”

Not surprisingly, this indie-laden list is also notable for those who are not on it. Others considered possible contenders included Golden Globe winner Martin Brest (“Scent of a Woman”), Spike Lee (“Malcolm X”), Francis Ford Coppola (“Bram Stoker’s Dracula”), Danny DeVito (“Hoffa”), Richard Attenborough (“Chaplin”), Robert Redford (“A River Runs Through It”), John Sayles (“Passion Fish”) and James Foley (“Glengarry Glen Ross”).

Tradition promises that whoever wins the award will also probably win the Oscar race for directing. Since 1949, only three directors who have won the DGA award did not go on to win the Oscar.

They include Anthony Harvey, who won the DGA award in 1968 for “The Lion in Winter,” but lost the Oscar to Carol Reed (“Oliver!”). Similarly, Coppola won the DGA award in 1972 for “The Godfather,” but lost the Oscar to Bob Fosse for “Cabaret.”

In 1985, Steven Spielberg won the DGA prize for “The Color Purple,” then lost the Oscar to Sydney Pollack for “Out of Africa.”

As usual, the DGA, in handing out its nominations, also recognizes the director’s entire support team. They include:

“Unforgiven”: David Valdes, unit production manager; Scott Maitland, first assistant director; and Jeffrey Wetzel, second assistant director.

“A Few Good Men”: Steve Nicolaides, unit production manager; Frank Capra III, first assistant director; Matthew Rowland, second assistant director; Algric L. Chaplin, Alisa Statman, second second assistant directors.

“The Crying Game”: Redmond Morris, first assistant director; Melvin Lind, second assistant director.

“Howard’s End”: Chris Newman, first assistant director.

“The Player”: Thomas Udell, unit production manager; Allan Nichols, first assistant director; C.C. Barnes, second assistant director.

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