Mud was the dominant theme as Dee Rees‘ “Mudbound” opened the 31st edition of the AFI Fest on Thursday night at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Mary J. Blige, who plays matriarch Florence Jackson, said she still has vivid recollections of last year’s 29-day film shoot in Louisiana, set in rural Mississippi in post-World War II.

“We were in real heavy conditions with heat, mosquitos, and mud everywhere and it was crazy, but there was a lot of respect and love among the cast,” she said. “Working with Dee was a joy because she really is like a gift from God. And being Florence helped me in my confidence.”

The R&B chart-topper also added that she has her sights set on more screen time. “What’s next for me is more movies,” she added.

Garrett Hedlund, who portrays a returning war veteran, said the film took him back to his roots.

“I grew up on a cattle farm in northern Minnesota so mud is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life,” he added. “I know all about mud.”

Hedlund also expressed his admiration for Rees’ clarity of vision: “Dee just knew what she wanted, often there was just one take.”

As for Rees, who teamed with Virgil Williams to adapt Hillary Jordan’s novel for the screenplay, mud has a deeper meaning.

“Mud is a metaphor for race,” she noted. “It sticks to our clothes. We track it in and we track it out. We’ve created this kind of fiction that sticks to us.”

Rob Morgan, who portrays the husband to Blige’s character, admitted that it was startling to look back seven decades

“I have it a lot easier than Hap Jackson,” he added. “I discovered that being put in that environment made me so grateful to have ancestors who dealt with their situation with such grace.”

Frankie Smith, who’s 24, but portrayed 15-year-old Marlon Jackson, said “Mudbound” left him counting his blessings.

“I’m a city boy,” he laughed. “I’m not a farm boy. I appreciate farmers, but I don’t want to be one.”

Rees is planning to re-team with Carey Mulligan, who’s attached to play Gloria Steinem, in “An Uncivil War.” Beyond that, she said, “I want create films that will last.”

Netflix opens the film at 17 locations and on its streaming service on Nov. 17.