The Back-Breaking Leaf

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 29, 2015

Have you noticed? I love the NFB! This production doesn’t necessarily appear at the top of the Board’s lists of milestones, though it clearly comes right out of the core of the amazing Unit B, so active and productive back during one of the organization’s numerous primes. This just reminds me that promotional lists, though they’re probably necessary in a couple of ways, and probably helpful when we’re just starting out with something, mostly just skim surfaces or even outright distract/deceive us.

Late 50’s tobacco farming in Chatham, Ontario might not sound like the most interesting subject for a film, at least or especially in this day and age. Smoking is bad for you. Ontario might also be bad for you. Careful, though. As we all know, even if we don’t follow through on the fact, everything is interesting when approached with the right attitude, interest, or, in the case of those communicating  here, skill.

Man! The clarity of the argument, the the aptness—poetry, power—of the images that illustrate it, the resonance of this seemingly/not remotely limited subject. Smoking is bad for you? There’s the poignancy of this production, and the decency too. Ross McElwee made a very distinct, similarly deep and decent film on this subject, in this case in his home state of North Carolina (Bright Leaves, 2003). I mention this to suggest that our health and moral convictions shouldn’t or needn’t cause us to avoid paradox, or acknowledging how hard people work, and how complicatedly.

Add these films up, by these folks, at this time. I swear: it’s an out-and-out, full-on Canadian Enlightenment! So deep, decent, bracing, thrilling …

Here’s the link: