What legacy is passed down to generations when a family is a giant tobacco producer? Filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman's March, Time Indefinite - POV 1994), whose great-grandfather created the famous Bull Durham brand in his native North Carolina, takes viewers on an autobiographical journey across that state's social, economic and psychological tobacco terrain. Wise and wry, this meditation on the allure of cigarettes looks at loss and preservation, addiction and denial. Bright Leaves also examines filmmaking itself, as McElwee grapples with home movies, a vintage Hollywood melodrama and his own efforts to document North Carolina and his family.
From death on the streets of Crown Heights to director Steven Spielberg's controversial visit to a predominantly black high school in East Oakland, the film resists simple analysis and treads provocatively on the fault lines of racial coalition and conflict.