Why ‘Mudbound’ Filmmaker Dee Rees Said No to Studio Films and Kept Her Creative Independence

IndieWire | 8/11/2017 | Staff
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Our bi-weekly Film Festival Roundup column explores notable stories and news updates from the circuit.

Dee Rees knows how to say no, especially when it comes to making decisions that will impact her still-rising filmmaking career. And while she’s likely the last person to call herself a vanguard, at least one organization is more than happy to bestow the honor on her: Sundance, which has fostered her talent — and her independent thinking — from the beginning.

Year - Sundance - NEXT - FEST - Spirit

Now in its fifth year, Sundance NEXT FEST aims to bring the spirit and energy of the festival to sunny Los Angeles, at least in short form, thanks to a four-day event that plays home to screenings, talks, and events curated directly from the January lineup. This year, Rees will be on hand to receive the festival’s Vanguard Award, created to celebrate “an emerging audience with creative independence.” Rees is in good company, as previous Vanguard winners include Damien Chazelle, Benh Zeitlin, and Ryan Coogler.

Rees’ roots with the festival run deep — her NYU thesis, the short that would become her full-length “Pariah,” helped get her noticed by the Sundance Institute, leading to what is now a ten-year-long relationship with both the organization and its affiliated festival. In 2007, she took the feature script for “Pariah” to the institute’s Screenwriters Lab; the next year, she and her “Pariah” were back again for the Directors Lab portion of the program. The finished film debuted at the festival in 2010. Six years later, she returned with her historic drama “Mudbound,” which sold to Netflix for an eye-popping $12.5 million.

Start - Rees - Institute - Interview - Industry

“It’s where I got my start,” Rees said of the institute in a recent interview. “It was like the first industry notice I’d gotten, they’re responsible for a lot of the relationships that I ultimately built in the industry....
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