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 ...
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Ross McElwee sets out to make a documentary about the lingering effects of General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War, but is continually sidetracked by ... See full summary »
Ross McElwee Jr.
Filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman's March, Bright Leaves) finds himself in frequent conflict with his son, a young adult who seems addicted to and distracted by the virtual worlds of the ... See full summary »
Forty year old documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee has a penchant for filming everything around him. Following the announcement of his impending marriage to his film-making partner Marilyn ... See full summary »
In 1986, Ross McElwee and Marilyn Levine were making a film about the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, when the imposing structure was still very much intact as the world's most visible symbol of hardline Communism.
A retelling of Sir Ernest Shackleton 's ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914-1916, featuring new footage of the actual locations and interviews with surviving relatives of key ... See full summary »
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
[on being asked about the tobacco industry]
It brings a lotta jobs and a lotta revenue, but... it has its health hazards and... everybody's gonna die of something, so...
May as well be tobacco?
Might as well die of something that's gonna help out the... the... *what's* the word? Here, I'm thinkin'...
*There* ya go. There ya go. Havin' a tough mornin'...
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Seen at NYFF. Ross McElwee has perfected a sui generis form of personal-confession, free-associating, voiced-over "documentary" (if that's the word) that isn't quite like anything else. (Comparisons will doubtless be made with Michael Moore, but the difference is obvious: Moore hammers his points home, while McElwee tries to pretend that he doesn't have any to make.) Five years, he tells us, in the making, the film mines his native North Carolina for musings on tabacco, its ravages, its sweet consolations, and the fact that his family lost its fortunes to the Duke clan and then made back a more modest one by treating the victims of the industry that that clan had perfected. Oh, and that he had a father and has a son he whom he loved and loves beyond all telling. And that there was a Michael Curtiz/Gary Cooper movie, "Bright Leaf", that may or may not be about his family, but that we all ought to go check out anyway, if only to see Cooper interact on screen with his then lover Patricia Neal, who turns up in the now-doughty flesh the better to frustrate McElwee in his attempts to validate his romantic notions, another theme. North Carolina is the main character here, or rather McElwee's complex relationship with it and feelings about it and about his own now-Yankeeized family. Charm and yarns, poignant reflections on time lost and time regained and how the home movies he and his family seem to have made with Friedmanesque compulsion may or may not interact with these, some pure and wonderful comedy on film itself, all come together in a rich stew.
If you expect movies to be "about" anything in particular, this film will doubtless leave you scratching your head in frustration and bafflement. If you can accept a movie that is a beautifully paced (quick/elegiac/quick) romp by a quirky mind with one of the sharpest eyes around, you'll have a great time. The festival audience (many of whom, unlike me, seemed to know what to expect) certainly did.
PS: In the Q&A, McElwee pointed out the obvious: that this film was actually made on film, not from digitized pixels. He wryly dismissed those who applauded this affirmation as flacks for Kodak, but the reason for the applause is real and obvious. What a joy it is once again to actually see detail in an image, to see faces in full and changing expression instead of in soupy facsimile. And to see real colors (and what an eye for color McElwee has) in all their changing subtlety, instead of vague planes of yellow or puce.
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