Bright Leaves (2003): Ross McElwee’s Idiosyncratic Documentary

Independent filmmaker Ross McElwee made Bright Leaves, a personal docu about the history of his family’s association with the tobacco industry.

The movie world premiere at the 2003 Cannes Film Fest.

The feature’s point of departure–and reference point is the Gary Cooper Hollywood movie of 1950, Bright Leaf, co-starring Lauren Bacall and Patricia Neal.

The struggle depicted in the feature, according to McElwee family tradition, parallels that between McElwee’s great-grandfather and the patriarch of the Duke family; Duke University is named after him.

McElwee’s free-style voiceover, laced with low-key sense of humor, lends the docu a spontaneous feel and personal touch.


Interviewees include Allan Gurganus, Ross McElwee, Tom McElwee, Vlada Petric, Paula Larke, Marilyn Levine, Emily Madison, Adrian McElwee, Charleen Swansea, and Patricia Neal, the star of the 1950 feature.