Up 28,133 this week

Bright Leaves (2003)

Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 7.1/10 from 498 users   Metascore: 79/100
Reviews: 14 user | 40 critic | 21 from

North Carolina produces more tobacco than any other state in America. Bright Leaves describes a journey taken across the social, economic, and psychological tobacco terrain of North ... See full summary »



Watch Trailer
0Check in

Watch Now

$0.00 with Prime Instant Video


User Lists

Related lists from IMDb users

a list of 32 titles
created 28 Jun 2011
a list of 179 titles
created 27 Dec 2012
a list of 24 titles
created 26 Jan 2014
a list of 207 titles
created 6 months ago
a list of 40 titles
created 3 weeks ago

Related Items

Search for "Bright Leaves" on

Connect with IMDb

Share this Rating

Title: Bright Leaves (2003)

Bright Leaves (2003) on IMDb 7.1/10

Want to share IMDb's rating on your own site? Use the HTML below.

Take The Quiz!

Test your knowledge of Bright Leaves.
1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »



Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Rare16mm home movies from the 1920s through the 1950s, that weaves into a composite lifetime, passing through the celebrations and struggles from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience (In HD)

Director: Alan Berliner
Wide Awake (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

A filmmaker documents his bout with insomnia.

Director: Alan Berliner
Stars: William C. Dement
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

In 2007 Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras is celebrated... and complicated. Following a cast of characters, parades, and parties across an enduring color line, we see that beneath the surface of pageantry lies something else altogether.

Director: Margaret Brown
Stevie (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

In 1995 Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) returned to rural Southern Illinois to reconnect with Stevie Fielding, a troubled young boy he had been an 'Advocate Big Brother' to ten years earlier.

Director: Steve James
Stars: Steve James, Stephen Fielding, Tonya Gregory
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

In The Sweetest Sound, Alan Berliner (the filmmaker from New York) is tired of being mistaken for people who might share his name and decides to rid himself of the dreaded Same Name Syndrome (In HD).

Director: Alan Berliner
Stars: Alan Berliner, Alain Berliner, Allen Berliner
Liverpool (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

A merchant sailor returns to his home in Tierra del Fuego after spending most of his life at sea.

Director: Lisandro Alonso
Stars: Juan Fernández, Nieves Cabrera, Giselle Irrazabal
Momma's Man (2008)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  

A man who has avoided his wife and child at home has a change of heart after an imposed stay in his own parents' loft.

Director: Azazel Jacobs
Stars: Matt Boren, Flo Jacobs, Ken Jacobs
Documentary | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

A documentary on Jonathan Caouette's cross-country road trip with his mentally ill mother.

Director: Jonathan Caouette
Stars: Kathy Biehl, Jonathan Caouette, Joshua Caouette
In Paraguay (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Director: Ross McElwee
Stars: Ross McElwee, Marilyn Levine, Adrian McElwee
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Director: Ross McElwee
Stars: Charleen Swansea, John W. Love Jr.
Backyard (1984)
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Director: Ross McElwee
Stars: Ross McElwee, Ross McElwee Jr., Ann McElwee
The Long Hot Summer (TV Movie 1985)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Director: Stuart Cooper
Stars: Don Johnson, Jason Robards, Judith Ivey


Credited cast:
Allan Gurganus ...
Paula Larke ...
Marilyn Levine ...
Emily Madison ...
Ross McElwee ...
Tom McElwee ...
Vlada Petric ...
Charleen Swansea ...


North Carolina produces more tobacco than any other state in America. Bright Leaves describes a journey taken across the social, economic, and psychological tobacco terrain of North Carolina by a native Carolinian, Ross McElwee, whose great-grandfather created the famous brand of tobacco known as Bull Durham. The comedic chronicle is a subjective, autobiographical meditation on the allure of cigarettes and their troubling legacy for the state of North Carolina. It's also a film about family history, addiction, denial, and filmmaking--as McElwee, noted director of Sherman's March, grapples with the legacy of an obscure Hollywood melodrama that is purportedly based on this curious man that was his great-grandfather. Written by Sujit R. Varma

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis






Release Date:

8 October 2004 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

La splendeur des McElwee  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$4,485 (USA) (27 August 2004)


$77,888 (USA) (3 June 2005)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs



See  »

Did You Know?


Allan Gurganus: Forbes Magazine and other national periodicals name this state as the great place to move, and I swear the day after the magazine comes out, you can see a difference in traffic patterns. For me, as somebody who grew up connected to a piece of property, albeit one that's now transformed into a trailer park, the idea that you would move to a place because a magazine that you bought for $3.95 *told* you to, is a symptom of such sadness in the culture, I cannot tell you. And it's also gumming up ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

Too many beauty queens to be named here See more »


References Bright Leaf (1950) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

About Tobacco But Also About Southern Exceptionalism
15 September 2004 | by (New York, N.Y.) – See all my reviews

Documentarian Ross McElwee in "Bright Leaves" offers his second paean to the South as he continues exploring his family lineage and Southern heritage. In "Sherman's March" McElwee wryly counterpoised the South that fell to the Union general's forces to the world of that era's descendants. He sculpted an original and fascinating snapshot of the American South.

"Bright Leaves" is more personal than the earlier film. The title comes from two sources. The first is the shimmeringly green tobacco plant native to North Carolina, America's largest producer of that evil weed. It also is the title, slightly different as "Bright Leaf," of an old, excellent, not often seen film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia O'Neal. It's an undeservedly obscure movie.

McElwee got it in his mind that "Bright Leaf" (based on a novel) was based on the life of the director's forbear, his great-grandfather, a man who supposedly was duped and cheated out of a tobacco fortune by the famous Duke family after many years of protracted litigation. As Ross McElwee originally saw it, but for the nefarious acts of the Dukes, which allegedly included paying off judges, he would today be enjoying the splendor of antebellum mansion living and the accumulation of riches earned by cigarettes.

But as McElwee explores the story behind his great-grandfather's slow rise to inventiveness and steady descent to bankruptcy, he also recognizes the enormous pathology that smoking unleashed not only in the U.S. but in all countries where North Carolina's prized tobacco is avidly and compulsively consumed. No Michael Moore, his social consciousness is sincere but restrained, tempered by his North Carolina childhood.

McElwee uses interviews with family members, childhood acquaintances and many others to depict the centrality of tobacco farming in the state of his birth. A short motel room talk with Patricia O'Neal makes the cineaste wish she didn't have a hurried schedule and could have been questioned at length.

A transplanted Southerner, McElwee has lived in the North for a long time. His wife sets him off on this investigation saying he'd been away too long from the South. He involves his son at different stages of the filming, which took five years, so we see the kid change from a post-toddler to a teen apparently more interested in the technology of film-making than in his dad's heritage.

There are some very funny scenes here. The best is when a white-haired, elderly "rabid film theorist" with a rich European accent, in North Carolina to lecture, straps McElwee into a wheelchair and takes him five times around the block while spouting academic argot about making movies.

McElwee learns a great deal about tobacco raising as well as what probably is the truth about his great-grandpa. No shocking revelations but minor disappointments emerge.

What McElwee has done a second time, perhaps not fully consciously, is to support the theory of Southern Exceptionalism, a favorite of one school of history. The main exposition of that school is that the South's history and heritage is not only unique, it stamps those born there with a special pride and association with love of land not common in other parts of the U.S. Midwesterners who sojourn to great cities may or may not retain fond memories of their childhood but only Southerners remain psychologically and emotionally wedded, almost always, to their native states. It doesn't much matter whether they stay or leave, the early associations remain vivid and also shape character and beliefs in ways that separate Southerners from their fellow Americans (not always, by the way, for the best).

As an anti-smoking film, "Bright Leaves" is more gentle than most. It's obvious that most of the people filmed here know how deadly smoking is but their almost languid acceptance of a likely future neoplastic assault does make one think about free choice and the limits of regulation. An almost blasé attitude towards cancer by some of the interviewees is quietly chilling.

A fine documentary.


4 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Finding Bright Leaves icanheartheheart
Bright Leaves Zeninabox
Music dalieberman
Other smoking documentaries chris-mccue
A Beautiful and Ironic Melange SurrenderToto
Can you buy Bright Leaf? tcrabill
Discuss Bright Leaves (2003) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page