With director Mona Fastvold at the helm, “The World to Come” cast were enthused to be part of a project that takes place during the mid-nineteenth century on the American East Coast frontier. The only problem was they couldn’t really dive into any recorded history.

“We know so little about working class women from this period. They didn’t live lives of leisure. There wasn’t a lot of time sitting around journaling,” Katherine Waterson told film and media executive editor Brent Lang in the Variety Studio presented by AT&T TV at the Sundance Film Festival. “History is written by the literate.”

“The World to Come” follows two neighboring couples as they endure hardship and isolation by living on the beautiful, but challenging landscape of the East Coast. The story is based off a book of the same name by writer Jim Shepard, of which he adapted into a screenplay with Ron Hansen.

“I felt it was really a very important voice, actually, that has kind of vanished,” Vanessa Kirby said.

Even though the film is a period piece, Kirby explained the film has a modern resonance— the problem of not being able to see someone you love. In signing on to the project, she was particularly intrigued by a single line of diary entry from the 19th century that Shepard found: “My best friend moved away and I fear I’ll never see her again.”

Because research material was limited, Waterson said she threw herself into becoming an expert on milking cows, while Kirby leaned into her character through wardrobe. Producer and co-star Casey Affleck commended them for how well they embodied their roles.

“Katherine and Vanessa just seemed to step into the period and into the farm life effortlessly,” he said.