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Independent Filmmakers Discuss How Panavision Supports their Creative Vision: Mudbound

Rachel Morrison, ASC earned an Oscar® nomination for her work on Mudbound, becoming the first female to be recognized in the category in the Academy’s 90-year history. The film, directed by Dee Rees, is set in rural Mississippi during World War II. It focuses on two families that are separated by society, yet united by their shared farmland.

For Mudbound, Morrison referenced photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration, including images by Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks. "Their work in the 1930s and '40s was paramount to the design of the movie and many of my compositional choices," says Morrison. "Parks' later work for Time Magazine, including his Segregation Story photo essay in 1956, especially influenced our use of color."

Rees and Morrison also took inspiration from artist Whitfield Lovell and Les Blank documentaries including The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins and Robert Frank's iconic photography volume “The Americans.” "When you add the scope of war, and the underlying racial and gender tensions — subjects I'm always interested in exploring – it's the perfect cocktail for a movie," notes Morrison.

"My vision was to make Mudbound look visually lush, considering the story's setting, but deep with intent and meaning," explains Morrison. To create the organic, raw look, Morrison chose a mix of Panavision C and D series anamorphics. She also used vintage Super Speeds from the 1960s and '70s that featured inherently reduced contrast and many optical aberrations.

"We embraced the aspherical softening around the edges of the image because we felt on a subconscious level that it recalled old Farm Security Administration photographs of the era,” notes Morrison. “The fact that we were shooting in authentic sharecropper and tenant houses from the late 1800s — despite being a huge challenge in its own right — only added to the authenticity.”

"With the photography, I wanted it to feel like everything was working against you as a human being, including the trees and the ground," adds Rees. "Through her images, Rachel comes to show how nature is indifferent to man's toil, and to his dreams and ambitions. The land becomes this humbling and leveling force that brings us all down to the basic requirements: food, shelter, sustenance."