An adaptation of the 2009 novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound tells a tale of a bond between a white and black family forged by the hardships of farm life in the Mississippi Delta during the Jim Crow era. That bond takes a fateful turn when the eldest sons of each family return from the horrors of WWII. The Netflix film is a big step up for director Dee Rees, who broke out with her microbudget 2011 Sundance film Pariah.

Even though the book was written by a woman, a pioneering period Western like Mudbound has traditionally been the domain of male directors. Here is a look at how Rees tackled the shoot, and how much she relied on other women to put her vision on screen. That inner circle included DP Rachel Morrison, makeup head Angie Wells, composer Tamar-kali, sound engineer Pud Cusack, and editor Mako Kamitsuna.

Rees navigated her journey at Deadline’s The Contenders events in both London and Hollywood, and it was so clear from her onstage rapport how her confidence — and the influence of WPA photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, who captured the life of farmers during the era — motivated her cast to follow her into tough subject matter, difficult weather conditions and, well, no shortage of mud.

Here is an exclusive look at that journey, with a cast that includes Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, and Jonathan Banks. Watch it above.