Nomadland filmmaker Chloe Zhao took the top prize at the Directors Guild Of America Awards.
The Chinese director won outstanding directorial achievement in theatrical feature film for Nomadland, which stars Frances McDormand as a 60-something woman who lives life on the road in the American West.
Zhao is the first woman of colour to win the award and only the second female, following in the footsteps of Kathryn Bigelow, who was honoured in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
It is the latest awards season triumph for Zhao and Nomadland. She is widely tipped to win best director at the Oscars while it would take a considerable upset for her film to miss out on best picture.
Zhao won the DGA Awards’ top honour over Oscars rivals including Britain’s Emerald Fennell, who was nominated for revenge thriller Promising Young Woman.
Fennell is also nominated for best director at the Oscars and her film is up for best picture.
Other nominees for the DGA Awards’ headline category included David Fincher for Mank, Lee Isaac Chung for Minari and Aaron Sorkin for The Trial Of The Chicago 7.
Zhao’s win bodes well ahead of the Academy Awards. Since 2010, only two filmmakers have won the DGA Awards’ top prize but failed to win best director at the Oscars.
Elsewhere during the virtual awards ceremony, which honoured achievement in film, TV and advertising, Darius Marder won the prize for first-time feature film for Sound Of Metal.
Lesli Linka Glatter won the award for directing a dramatic series for Homeland while the comedy equivalent went to Susanna Fogel for The Flight Attendant.
Nomadland previously won best film at the Golden Globes and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
It is up for best film at the Baftas on Sunday and Zhao is nominated for best director.
The Oscars are set to take place on April 25.