Smoking has become a polarizing issue in America, with manufacturers, health professionals, legislators, insurance companies and consumers embroiled in controversy. But a voice seldom heard is one central to the debate, that of the small American tobacco farmer. Tobacco Blues takes viewers into the homes and fields of four farm families in Kentucky, providing a picture of a culture and way of life that has existed for generations and is threatened with extinction.
Can a good person grow tobacco? In this film we are seeing four rock-solid families who grow tobacco because it is the only way they could survive on their land. Mattie Mack, an African American, feels persecuted by the government’s regulation and passionately testifies before Congress on behalf of the farmers. The Jenkins raised nine children on their farm, but Mrs. Jenkins is now troubled by growing a "killer crop."
Some farmers smoke themselves and have suffered health problems; some have never smoked. They all face the problem of whether to continue to raise the doomed crop, or whether to risk their future on something untried and new. Even though Stephen Smith is successfully growing organic vegetables to diversify his crop, he feels he has the right to continue to farm tobacco. The farmers are pictured as neither victims nor villians, but as hard-working families who love their land and their way of life.
Eren Isabel McGinnis and Christine Fugate are the co-founders of the feminist filmmaking collective, Café Sisters Productions. Together they made several cutting-edge films in the 1990s with celebrated cinematographer Sandra Chandler and Academy Award winning editor Kate Amend.