Dee Rees’ Mudbound, based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name, premiered Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival, and received a standing ovation from the crowd.  Mudbound marks Rees’ first theatrical feature since her 2011 debut Pariah, which also premiered at Sundance.

The film is set in the Mississippi Delta during and immediately following World War II, the film follows two families: the white McAllans, who own a large farm, and the black Jacksons, who are sharecroppers on the McAllans’ land. When both Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) return from serving in the war, they become friends, bonding over their shared experience. However, while the two men saw the world change enormously when they fought for their country, they come home to find that rural Mississippi stayed very much the same, and neither their families nor their community looks kindly on their friendship.

“I just wanted to juxtapose the battle at home versus the battle abroad, with the battle at home sometimes being even bloodier than the battle abroad. And it’s not only bloodier, but filthier too.  The look of the film, and the cleanliness of its characters, echoes its title, Rees said in a post screening Q&A. “For me, the mud was a metaphor for the suck that we’re all in,” the filmmaker said. “The mud, and the suck, and the elements being kind of indifferent to our suffering.”

Mary J. Blige, who play Ronsel’s mother said, “Besides race and color, as women, we have a bond. There’s this thing that we all understand about each other.”

Mudbound was executive produced by Poppy Hanks and produced by Charles King, Kim Roth, Cassian Elwes, Sally Jo Effenson, Carl Effenson, Chris Lemole, and Tim Zajaros.  MACRO co-financed this project with Zeal, and Good Universe will sell foreign rights.