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Bright Leaves (2003)

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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 460 users   Metascore: 79/100
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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 »



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Title: Bright Leaves (2003)

Bright Leaves (2003) on IMDb 7.1/10

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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

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Release Date:

8 October 2004 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Bright Leaves  »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

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


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

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Ross McElwee: As time goes by, my father is beginning to seem less and less real to me in these images. Almost a fictional character. I want so much to reverse this shift, the way in which the reality of him is slipping away. Having this footage doesn't help very much - or, at least, not as much as I thought it would.
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User Reviews

A Masterful Follow Up to "Sherman's March"...
18 April 2005 | by (Virginia) – See all my reviews

It was about 15 years ago that I first saw Ross McElwee's quasi-autobiographical documentary about his quest to trace General Sherman's unsuccessful campaign through the South during the Civil War. "Sherman's March" was a film which showed the delightful disconnect between McElwee's memories of vestigial Southern culture, with the man he had become. Just as the American South exemplifies the Sublime to the Ridiculous, McElwee's ostensible journey to follow the trail of Sherman's March was really an excuse to visit old girlfriends and childhood memories along the way.

"Bright Leaves" is so good a follow up to McElwee's earlier film about his search to understand his Southern roots that, rather than inviting a comparison with "Sherman's March," it simply picks up his story with a new quest. This time it's his search to understand the history of North Carolina tobacco farming, which was also a part of his family's history three generations before.

The film is at least two hours long, but not one extraneous frame is included. In McElwee's typical style, he presents us with a meandering, quiet, thoughtful and extremely funny unfolding of the tobacco story, and his signature pacing perfectly highlights the layers and layers of meaning he wants to get across.

As a Northerner and unashamed Yankee who has lived in the South for 13 years (which is 12 years too long), I can vouch that McElwee's films have just as much value for those of us who lack the DNA required to understand the South. His films are not just for born and bred Southerners who see themselves as special members of a unique and proudly eccentric group.

On a practical level, "Bright Leaves" may be the best anti-smoking film ever made, just as "Supersize Me" was the most convincing argument about the dangers of fast food. I highly recommend you take your kids to see it, too.

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