Bright Leaves

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Bright Leaves
McElwee shooting a scene from Bright Leaves
Directed by Ross McElwee
Produced by Ross McElwee
Written by Ross McElwee
Cinematography Ross McElwee
Edited by
  • Channel 4 Television Corporation
  • Homemade Movies
  • WGBH
Distributed by
  • First Run Features (USA)
  • Rézo Films (France)
Release date
Running time
107 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Language English

Bright Leaves is a 2003 United States/United Kingdom documentary film by independent filmmaker Ross McElwee about the association his family had with the tobacco industry.[1][2] Bright Leaves had its world premiere at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.[3]


Bright Leaf is the name of a strain of tobacco.[1] It was also the name of a 1949 novel and 1950 feature film about a struggle between two tobacco barons. (Patricia Neal, one of the film's stars, is interviewed.)

The struggle depicted in the film, according to McElwee family tradition, parallels the historical one between McElwee's great-grandfather and the patriarch of the Duke family who founded Duke University.[1][4][5]


Interviewed as part of this film include Allan Gurganus, Ross McElwee, Tom McElwee, Patricia Neal, Vlada Petric, Paula Larke, Marilyn Levine, Emily Madison, Adrian McElwee, and Charleen Swansea.


The documentary follows McElwee's usual style, where he gives voiceovers to apparently spontaneous footage, making the story more personal.[5] According to Roger Ebert:

"Bright Leaves is not a documentary about anything in particular. That is its charm. It's a meandering visit by a curious man with a quiet sense of humor, who pokes here and there in his family history and the history of tobacco."[5]

Marian Keane, in her essay "Reflections on Bright Leaves", collected in "Three Documentary Filmmakers", asserts that Bright Leaves displays McElwee's extraordinary ability to present "people in their uniqueness", contrasting this with other documentaries where people often "seem to exist in the world of film as if suspended from their relation to their actual lives."[1]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d William Rothman (2009). Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, Jean Rouch. SUNY Press. pp. 2, 6, 64, 68, 69. 70, 72, 73–82, 97, 103–121. ISBN 9781438425160. Retrieved 2015-08-29. 
  2. ^ Kathy McDonald (September 2004). "McElwee's 'Bright Leaves' Gives Viewers Something to Chew On". International Documentary Association. Retrieved 2015-08-29. 
  3. ^ "Bright Leaves". DOXA Documentary Film Festival. 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2015-08-29. Bright Leaves premiered at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight, and In Paraguay premiered in the Venice Film Festival Orrizonti Section in 2008. - See more at: 
  4. ^ Leiter, Andrew B. (28 July 2011). Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals Since the 1970s. McFarland. pp. 142–144. ISBN 978-0-7864-8702-8. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Roger Ebert (2013). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2007. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780740792199. Retrieved 2015-08-29. 

External links[edit]