Bright Leaves

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is a stub and thus not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.
This article is about Bright Leaves (the documentary film). For other uses of the term Bright Leaf, please see Bright Leaf (disambiguation).
Director Ross McElwee shooting a scene for the film.

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]

The struggle depicted in the feature film, according to McElwee family tradition, parallels one between McElwee's great-grandfather, John Harvey McElwee, and James (Buck) Buchanan Duke, the patriarch of the Duke family, for whom Duke University is named.[1][4][5][6][7][8]


Interviewed as part of this film include Allan Gurganus, Ross McElwee, Tom McElwee, Vlada Petric, Paula Larke, Marilyn Levine, Emily Madison, Adrian McElwee, Charleen Swansea, and Patricia Neal, the leading lady of the 1950 feature film.


The documentary follows McElwee's usual style, where he gives voiceovers to apparently spontaneous footage, making the story more personal.[5][9] 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]

Efren Cuevas wrote that, in Bright Leaves, McElwee returns to casting himself, the film's narrator, as a "loser", paralleling his loss with the loss other members of his family remember their great-grandfather experienced at the hands of Buck Duke.[9]

Awards and nominations


Some content on this page may previously have appeared on Wikipedia.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 William Rothman (2009). Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, Jean Rouch. SUNY Press, 2, 6, 64, 68, 69. 70, 72, 73–82, 97, 103–121. ISBN 9781438425160. 
  2. Kathy McDonald (September 2004). McElwee's 'Bright Leaves' Gives Viewers Something to Chew On.
  3. Bright Leaves, 2012-05-10.
  4. Leiter, Andrew B. (28 July 2011). Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals Since the 1970s. McFarland, 142–144. ISBN 978-0-7864-8702-8. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Roger Ebert (2013). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2007. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780740792199. 
  6. Richard Corliss. That Old Feeling: The Great American Smoke, Time magazine, 2003-11-22. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “According to family legend, Ross' great-grandfather John Harvey McElwee had worked on such a process, created the Bull Durham brand and made a bundle, then lost it when his rival John Buchanan (Buck) Duke stole the Bull Durham recipe. Duke's fortune eventually rose into the billions; his daughter Doris was for a time the world's richest woman. The McElwees became convinced that the story of their ancestor's rise, and betrayal by Duke, was encapsulated in 'Bright Leaf' — that the film was, as Ross put it, 'a home movie reenacted by Hollywood stars.'mirror
  7. Ty Burr. `Bright Leaves' explores burning questions, Boston Globe, 2004-09-24. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “Neal and Cooper starred in 'Bright Leaf,' a 1950 Hollywood melodrama set in the tobacco fields and mansions of the post-Civil War era and based, McElwee comes to believe, on the bare bones of his great-grandfather's life. John Harvey McElwee was an ambitious planter who developed a tobacco blend he called "Durham Bull," a formula he spent his life and fortune in court trying to prove had been stolen and sold as "Bull Durham" by rival James B. Duke.” mirror
  8. Carla Meyer. Tobacco grower descendant explores the family industry McElwee's film tackles tobacco, San Francisco Chronicle, 2004-10-15. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “McElwee's journey in "Bright Leaves" starts with a visit to the North Carolina home of his film-buff cousin. Amid the cousin's collection of stills and reels is a 1950 film called 'Bright Leaf' starring Gary Cooper. He informs McElwee that the historical melodrama is based on the story of their great-grandfather, John Harvey McElwee, whose business was ruined by tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke.”
  9. 9.0 9.1 Efren Cuevas. Sculpting the Self: Autobiography According to Ross McElwee, Wide Angle: Articles on the cinema of Ross McElwee, 2008. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “The identifying marks of Ross McElwee’s autobiographical work keep relatively unchanged from Backyard to Bright Leaves, with little variations which allow us to talk of a common style in his fi lmography.” mirror
  10. McNary, Dave (15 February 2005). WGA serves up 1st doc kudo to 'Super'.