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Bright Leaves

Documentarian Ross McElwee (Sherman's March) contribues another intriguing, highly reflexive documentary feature. This one starts out when McElwee's cousin points out an obscure Hollywood melodrama called Bright Leaf, which is allegedly a fictionalized account of McElwee's tobacco-growing great-grandfather. Turns out grandpappy lost his fortune to a fellow named James Buchanan Duke. The Duke family went on to found Duke University, and McElwee's family was lost to the sands of Southern history. Several tangents are explored. McElwee starts off looking into the idea of his family's ill fortune being dramatized in a 1950 film. (Is it really inspired by his family?) From there he meditates on what life might have been like had his great grandfather been the recipient of Duke's millions. Finally, he wonders what the cost of these riches might be, exploring the effect of the tobacco industry on both growers and smokers. It's a slow, contemplative journey; but one filled with witty realizations about history, addiction and the current-day medical cost of all of it. 107 minutes