Prince of Smoke, directed by Matt Gelb and produced by his brother David – creator of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Chef’s Table – shows how Hiroshi, grandson of the legendary late Cuban wrapper grower Alejandro Robaina, continues to grow some of the nest tobacco leaf on the planet.
Hiroshi was picked from 11 grandchildren by Alejandro to continue his life’s work on Finca Robaina. Alejandro died in 2010, leaving Hiroshi to keep up the family tradition, which spans more than 170 years.
Film director Matt Gelb headed to Cuba once US travel restrictions were lifted by President Obama. “I could go there and finally smoke Cuban cigars!” Gelb tells Cigar Journal from his office in Los Angeles. “And eventually I went to try and persuade Hiroshi to let me film. Everywhere I went, I kept hearing about him so I wanted to see for myself. We approached him, and of course, at first he was wary. It took a while to persuade him. He wanted to see the first few rushes before agreeing to anything. But when he saw I wanted to portray his work in the right way, we became very close. His family are wonderful people.”
The short documentary follows Hiroshi’s work in the hallowed Vuelta Abajo region during a tempestuous tobacco harvest in 2016. Heavy rain storms threaten to destroy a year’s work and the tension in the air is palpable as Hiroshi scrambles to harvest his precious leaves in between downpours.
“One time, the thunder was rolling overhead and the rain was starting to fall and we were in the middle of the plantation. Hiroshi turned to me and said: ‘This is bad for me. But I can see it’s going to be great for your movie.’ And he was right.”
As well as highlighting how difficult it is to grow great tobacco, Prince of Smoke also demonstrates how global warming may be affecting Cuba’s traditional tobacco-growing agriculture. It also gave its director the chance to taste some of the best tobacco on the planet – right on the land where it was grown.
“Shortly after Hiroshi had watched those early rushes with his family and business partners, he handed me a cigar made with his own tobacco from the farm,” says Gelb. “And he told me I could stay and keep filming. Man, that cigar tasted good!” Gelb hopes Prince of Smoke will continue to attract a following. It has been screened at film festivals around the US to critical acclaim and can be streamed on Vimeo for USD 1.49 (EUR 2,55). It has also been available on Amazon since July 4.