“I just saw it as good American cinema. I wanted this to be an old-fashioned film, a film that they don’t make anymore,” said Dee Rees when presenting her new film “Mudbound” to press and industry at the New York Film Festival on October 12 (watch above). “I wanted to break out of the 90-minute artificial construct and just really let the voices ring out, let the story live, develop each character completely, and get the audience invested in the characters so the plot becomes secondary.”
“Mudbound” is an ensemble drama set in the 1940s in rural Mississippi at a time of racial conflict decades before the advances of the civil rights movement. It focuses on the lives of six characters who are members of two intersecting families: one black and one white. Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige) are parents and farm workers. Their adult son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) fights on the European front during World War II while the white McAllan family led by Henry and Laura (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) buys the Jacksons’ land. The lives of both families are complicated by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), who was traumatized by his own service in the war.
Rees previously directed the acclaimed indie film “Pariah” (2011) and earned Emmy nominations as both writer and director of the 2015 HBO telefilm “Bessie,” but “Mudbound,” even with its unflinching depictions of racism and poverty, could reach her widest audience yet. It will premiere on the streaming service Netflix on November 17.
“‘Pariah’ was kept alive by Netflix,” Rees said when discussing the release of the film on the sometimes controversial streaming platform. “Even though Focus Features had acquired it and released it in a platform release, people kept seeing that film because it’s on Netflix. So my idea of them is as a place for longevity, a place for auteurs, so I was thrilled … People in Texas will see it at the same time as people in Portugal.”
That streaming model is changing the game in an industry where new art-house films are still often inaccessible outside of large metropolitan markets, but it has yet to catch on at the Oscars — or Cannes — which are more committed to the traditional theatrical model. That may be part of the reason why a film like “Beasts of No Nation” was snubbed across the board while “Manchester by the Sea” over at Amazon earned a Best Picture nomination by going the traditional route on the big screen.
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