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DP Rachel Morrison discusses her new film ‘Mudbound,’ and the Oscar buzz surrounding it

Rachel Morrison on the set of "Mudbound." Photograph by Steve Dietl / Netflix

Rachel Morrison is a dynamic and bright cinematographer that may just be poised to break one of the glass ceilings at the Oscars. To date, a woman has never been nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. It’s hard to believe in this day, but it’s true. Rachel Morrison has been plugging away at her work, concentrating on her craft and she may have just come at the right time to be the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography for her new film “Mudbound.”

“Mudbound,” is the latest feature film by Netflix. It is a film adapted by a novel by Hilary Jordan and is an epic story of two families struggling to survive on a large cotton farm. Set around World War 2, the families – one white and one black - seemed immediately pitted against one another due to race. When the war is over, one member from each family returns home. After fighting Nazi’s, the two men form an uncommon and misunderstood friendship. It’s this friendship that will forever change the lives of all those living on the farm.

This is not the first film with award season buzz surrounding it that Rachel Morrison has photographed. In 2013, she shot the film “Fruitvale Station,” which was named by AFI as one of the best films of the year and it was honored with the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Rachel has always established herself as what she calls “a drama girl.” So when the opportunity to photograph “Mudbound,” came about, she was more than thrilled, “When I read the script it was a no brainer for me. This film was a home run on every front. I think it is a powerful and timely story with a director, whose work I respected. And it is a period piece which is a gift to any cinematographer.”

But Rachel was not the only female on the set of “Mudbound.” The film was directed by Dee Rees. Her most recent film was “Bessie,” for HBO. “Dee was a person I’ve known since her short film ‘Pariah.’ We’ve known each other from the festival circuit and we have had mutual respect and admiration for one another, but we have not had the chance to work together until now. It’s great to collaborate with a friend on something. Dee has a really strong vision. She knows what she wants, which is a relief for any cinematographer - especially for an ensemble piece like this. The biggest challenge was to make the film cohesive. To me it was a real strength of Dee to pull off a film featuring so many intersecting story lines with the time limitations of a film with a length of just a little over two hours.”

“Mudbound,” was shot in thirty days. The majority of the shoot was done just outside of New Orleans. The war scenes were filmed in Hungary. Besides the intersecting characters within the story of the film, one ever present character was the mud and the weather that creates it. Rachel described the difficulties with this part of the story, “The size and scope of this film with so many characters was challenging. And then of course the weather. We were shooting in the middle of summer in 105 degree heat, plus humidity with no respite. We were shooting in real plantation homes and there were no windows. Twenty six out of the 28 days were out in the sun without refrain from it, and it rained just about every day. The day would be sunny and as little as twenty minutes later we would be hit with torrential downpours. Then a few hours it would be sunny again. Keeping continuity in the film became very challenging with the weather so inconsistent.”

Netflix will release “Mudbound,” into theaters on Friday, November 17, in the United States. They will also release the film on their streaming channel on the same date. “Mudbound,” is definitely a cinematic treat. Rachel commented on the choice between seeing “Mudbound,” in theaters verses at home on Netflix, “I wish I could do some kind of campaign to get people to see it in theaters. It is really a movie that should be seen on the big screen.”

When the subject of Oscars came around Rachel was aware of the buzz, but she was very modest about her chances of nabbing an Oscar nomination, “It’s exciting to think about the possibility of it but I’m not holding my breath either. Between “Dunkirk,” and “Blade Runner,” we already have two out of the five. The competitions is fierce this year, but obviously it would be a huge honor to break the glass ceiling and set an example for other up and coming women cinematographers. It might make it a little less than an impossibility to them.

“Mudbound,” is rated R for some disturbing violence, brief language and nudity and has a run-time of two hours and 14 minutes.

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