Among the few titles coming out of Sundance that could find their way to next fall’s awards season, count Dee Rees’ early 20th century southern epic Mudbound, which Netflix won U.S. and select foreign territories to after a long auction last week for $12.5M; the highest of this year’s fest beating Amazon’s acquisition of The Big Sick by $500K.
With the Dust Bowl having decimated the Midwest’s agriculture during the 1930s, a few states over in Mississippi at the twilight of World War II, the state was experiencing 180-degree type weather with intense rains that drowned cotton fields.
“This is a generation and a period that is mythologized as the greatest generation, and I was interested in getting behind that, to see how it looked like on the ground,” says Dee Rees about what drew her to Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel which the filmmaker adapted with Virgil Williams.
Mudbound is about two families, the carpetbagging McAllans who arrive to rule over land which the Jacksons have tilled for generations, without any hope of profiting off from it. Carey Mulligan plays Laura McAllan, an accepting wife who contends with the stubbornness of her husband’s dreams (Jason Clarke) as he believes there’s a better life down south. Laura also has eyes though his charming brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) who has been pulled into the World War II theater, but soon returns to help on the farm, soon feeling purposeless as a vet. Jamie forms a bond with the Jackson’s war hero son Ronsel played by Jason Mitchell. But their friendship is a forbidden one in a Ku Klux Klan country that years later be rocked by the Civil Rights Movement. Rees, who marked her second visit to Park City, UT this year after her 2011 debut Pariah, says that she was fascinated with the idea of “citizenship, what does it mean to be a citizen” (an astute query in these trying Trump immigration times). “Ronsel is more of an American overseas than he is in his own country,” adds the filmmaker.
Here Rees along with the cast–Mulligan, Mitchell, Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige–expound on their process, while Hedlund does a fantastic impersonation of his co-star, Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks, who plays the nefarious patriarch.
The Netflix deal includes a simultaneous limited theatrical push for awards season for the acting performances.