Hand Rolled: A Film About Cigars

I’m a huge fan of cigars, as you can probably tell. And I’m also a bit of a history nerd. So when I heard about a documentary that explored the history of cigars, I immediately handed over my hard earned cash for a digital copy.

First and foremost, the production values are excellent. The cinematography is engaging and beautiful — I’d almost go as far as to call it the Top Gear of cigar documentaries. Taking something as mundane as growing plants and turning it into a beautiful film takes mastery and these guys have done it.

Equally as amazing is the number of influential members of the cigar industry that they were able to interview. The appearance list reads like a veritable who’s who of cigar manufacturing, from Jose and Jorge Padron to Rocky Patel and even newcomers like Pete Johnson.

The most interesting aspect of this documentary, in my opinion, was the firsthand accounts of how the Cuban revolution impacted the cigar industry and the ripple effect that it had throughout the Central American countries. Hearing how it impacted not only the companies, but also the families who decided to flee the country, was a story that I hadn’t heard before — and especially in such an effective manner. It really brought that chapter of history to life.

That said, there are some things that I didn’t love about the film.

Like most documentaries, the film seems to have an agenda, and in this case it seems to be specifically aimed at the proposed regulations around cigars being considered by the FDA. The film quite clearly argues that there’s a difference between “premium” cigars such as those produced by the companies involved in the documentary and “machine made” cigars that are luring children to start smoking. Whether you agree with them, they’re not subtle about it at all.

They also go out of their way to talk about the positive economic impact of premium cigar manufacturing, specifically the jobs it provides and the people it supports. They even have a section of the film dedicated to the schools and non-profit institutions the cigar companies have built near their factories to improve the lives of their workers.

Rather than the focus on this specific issue, I personally would rather the filmmakers spent more time discussing the details of cigar making and the history of the process. There’s some passing mention of how a cigar is constructed and there’s a good bit of time on the blending, but I’d love to have heard more about the history of cigar shapes and formats. When they did focus the story here, it was absolutely enthralling — and made me wish for more of that content.

There are some niggling issues I have with the film, sure. But those are minor issues in an otherwise excellent documentary. If you see the film for no other reason than those stories and the excellent cinematography, I guarantee that you’ll feel like you’ve spent your money well.

Available on Amazon Prime

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