LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Hollywood's producers named "CODA," a heartwarming indie drama about a deaf family, the year's best film at their annual gala Saturday, throwing the race for next weekend's Oscars wide open.
"CODA," which cast deaf actors in several lead roles, follows teenage Ruby -- who can hear -- as she juggles pursuing her musical ambitions with her family's dependence on her to communicate.
The movie, released by Apple TV+, is now best-placed to vie with Netflix's Western "The Power of the Dog," the presumed Academy Award frontrunner.
"I have always been drawn to stories that are filled with humanity," said producer Philippe Rousselet, accepting the award.
"And in a world where we see the lack of it every day, I'll take this tonight -- this award -- as a sign that there's still hope."
The Producers Guild Awards, taking place with Oscars voting now under way, have correctly predicted 11 of the past 14 winners of the best picture Academy Award.
"Encanto" won the PGA's best animated film, strengthening its own Oscars bid before voting ends Tuesday.
"Summer of Soul" -- musician Questlove's first movie, about the huge "Black Woodstock" festival that took place in 1969 Harlem -- racked up another best documentary win.
The Academy Awards take place in Hollywood on March 27. "In music, coda means the end of a movement. But our film is the beginning of one," said "CODA" actress Marlee Matlin.
"It's a wonderful thing that audiences have embraced our movie and it's wonderful to be making history," she said, before it took the night's top prize.
- Spielberg honors Lucas -
Earlier in the night, Steven Spielberg praised "my brother" George Lucas as he presented the "Star Wars" creator with the PGA's career achievement award.
"George and I met as two of the most nerdy film junkies in California... Across all the years we competed against each other, we propped each other up, we cheered each other on. We made each other better," said Spielberg.
Lucas told the audience he was most proud of his work to usher in "digital cinema," which has largely replaced traditional celluloid reels, and has accelerated 3D and computer effects which dominate many superhero blockbusters today.
But Lucas recognized that some of his peers including Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan have still not fully joined the digital revolution and believe that traditional film still offers a richer aesthetic.
"There's a whole group of them -- everybody around is like 'Oh, digital, that's not movies, that's something else!'" he said, as Spielberg laughed off-stage.
Lucas shared the Milestone Award with Kathleen Kennedy, his heir at Lucasfilm, which is now owned by Disney.
Disney was this week hit by employee protests over its initially hesitant reaction to Florida's so-called "Don't say gay" bill.
Kennedy said "women, artists of color, LGBTQ and differently labelled artists and producers" had given Hollywood a "more inclusive, diverse, richer, more sophisticated and nuanced sense of our responsibilities for social, racial and economic justice."
The proposed law, which would prohibit discussing LGBT topics in classrooms, has been condemned as discriminatory by critics.
- TV prizes -
Saturday's PGAs, voted on by 8,000-odd producers, honored film as well as television, with HBO's "Succession" winning the top drama prize.
"Ted Lasso" continued its comedy awards sweep, "Mare of Easttown" took limited series, and Peter Jackson's "The Beatles: Get Back" won the non-fiction prize.