A Billion Lives

When I was doing (part) of my write up of the Global Forum on Nicotine conference, I mentioned that I might have had something special coming up. As most of you should know by now, A Billion Lives – directed by Aaron Biebert – has premiered in New Zealand, Australia and of course Poland. Now, on August 6th A Billion Lives is coming home.

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The film has garnered some well deserved accolades, a lot of attention, and has been reviewed by numerous critics and been called “A wake up call”. I had the honour of meeting Aaron, albeit briefly, at the Poland premiere, and like many others who have seen the film have been mightily impressed with how Aaron has directed the film, and I truly wish I could get across to the US to see it again at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.

Now, there has been a lot of noise on social media recently about wanting the film to be on services like Netflix and so forth, so I asked Aaron a few questions and he has been kind enough to spare some of his time and give me a few answers.

Probably the most asked question for Aaron is what prompted him and his team to take on this documentary in the first place – especially as neither Aaron, or any of his team smoke or vape – so why this particular topic?

The initial draw was the chance to tell an important story. No filmmaker wants to make a film that nobody sees. We knew this was a hot topic.

It became a lot more personal after meeting the thousands of people that lost loved ones to smoking or were losing their businesses now to predatory legislation backed by big companies. It makes me want to fight.

Of course, the first teaser trailer came under a lot of criticism – the first “trial by fire” as it were – criticism is of course part of being a director, and though Aaron came under a lot of it when the first trailer was released, he stayed true to his vision – seeking the truth.

From day 1 we were always looking for truth. We asked all sides of the debate for information. We were happy to get feedback on the first teaser trailer. It definitely helped us look deeper into some of the information.

Thankfully, we have yet to get a poor review of the final movie. Our early critics helped us get it right for the final critics, and more importantly…the public.

Criticism helped shape the film, both positive and negative feedback guided Aaron and his team to the final result – but how much influence did their followers have?

Not a lot. In our hunt for the truth, we went right for the doctors and scientists. That’s mainly what the public cares about. They want to hear from experts. We ended up getting two of the top doctors in the world, the former president of the World Medical Association and the former Executive Director at the World Health Organization. What they had to say was game-changing.

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That wasn’t the only thing that was game-changing though, while we were having an impact (to whatever degree) on Aaron and his team, the film was having an impact on us, did that surprise them?

We knew going in that there was a lot of lives on the line, and a lot of passion. Never did we think people would start getting #ABillionLives tattoos, before even seeing the movie.

Being involved in this film has exposed Aaron and his team to the wider vaping community, they’ve made representation in the US during the final stages of the Deeming Rule, they’ve seen the TPD ushered in across the EU, and they know precisely what we as a community and industry are up against. What does Aaron have to say about the limited number people standing up against the over-zealous regulation, does it worry him?

Yes, I am very worried. The apathy is the #1 reason why the few liars are allowed to keep spreading the deadly message that people should stop using the most effective ways to quit smoking. Can you imagine 45 million people standing up and speaking with one united voice?

That is the only way the well-funded pro-smoking propaganda gets stopped.

Indeed so, momentum on that count is gathering, but slowly. I suspect that it might pick up the pace as the date the regulations across the globe start to bite draws ever closer, but time will tell.

The film itself has been successful wherever it has been shown, it has won awards and so has Aaron himself (Best Director!). But despite that success, many are calling for the film to be made available on streaming services. A number of people (myself included) think that going to streaming services so soon is not the right path for the film, at least not yet. Are Netflix and other services on the horizon at all?

We do have plans to utilize streaming services, but unless we see success with our premieres and in theaters, it will probably be mid to late 2017 before that is possible. There’s simply not enough interest right now.

No doubt that this would also apply to other video on demand services too. Be patient folks, or alternatively, make a lot of noise to get the film shown in your area.

Any plans for a follow-up?

We were talking about it, but that has been put on the back burner until we see how this big premiere goes in the US. All eyes are on Milwaukee.

Do you have a message for the community? For smokers? For legislators?

Care about your neighbours. Ask honest questions. Listen to the actual science. Protect those who are being attacked.

Are you ready America? A Billion Lives is coming home.

Thank you Aaron, and all at Attention Era for your dedication and hard-work on this film, it’s now up to us to make a lot of noise so that it gets the attention it deserves. Make sure you stay up to date with what Aaron and his team are up to over at abillionlives.com, give them a follow on Twitter and see their stunning photos over on Instagram.

(Image credit Attention Era Media)

(Image credit Shannon Sparkles)

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