Interview with “A Billion Lives” Director, Aaron Biebert

1.     Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been in documentaries?

I’ve been doing short films and mini-docs for the past seven years, but ‘A Billion Lives’ is my first feature length documentary for theaters. About half of my projects deal with nonprofit organization and social good. We feel like this movie was a natural extension of that desire to be socially responsible with our time, talent, and resources.

2.     Can you give us a brief description about the documentary and how you came to produce it?

After one of my colleagues died from lung cancer, I started to learn more about smoking addiction, the difficulty of quitting, and what therapies work. I never understood how someone who was dying of lung cancer could keep smoking. I initially thought vaping looked like some hipster way to keep smoking indoors. Years later, some friends educated me more on the topic. They sounded like conspiracy theorists with talk about how big business and government interests were interfering with this cheap, drug-free alternative that is helping many people quit smoking.

When I found out that a billion people were projected to die from smoking this century, I knew this topic deserved a look. If there was indeed something going on, it would be the story of a lifetime.

Telling the public what we found is what ‘A Billion Lives’ is all about.

3.     What were you trying to achieve with the film, and how much did the documentary affect you personally?

The movie aims to explain how there’s a way to save a billion people, but few non-smokers care because we’ve all been taught that smokers should just quit. The fact is that most people believe smokers who don’t quit deserve to die. I used to.

What I’ve learned is that most smokers started smoking as kids, taught to smoke by their own family members, friends, or even the military.

When you start that young the developing brain latches onto the chemicals in the cigarette. That addiction is serious. Our film explains not only the extreme dangers smoking inflicts on millions every year, but also how governments and large corporations who benefit from tobacco sales hold real solutions like vapor technology hostage to keep tax revenue and profits rolling in.  

4.     How widely is the documentary distributed? Any Awards?

The film has been showed over 100 times in theaters in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, and Ireland.

We’ve been honored to receive the following awards:

  • 2016 Supreme Jury Prize (Best Picture) at Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
  • 2016 Best International Documentary at Jozi Film Festival (South Africa)
  • 2016 Best Director at Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
  • 2016 Remi Award from Worldfest Houston International Film Festival
  • 2016 Best International Feature - Finalist at DocEdge (New Zealand)d

5.     What challenges did you face in the course of producing the documentary?

When we began to talk about A Billion Lives on Facebook, the boosting of our posts was restricted because we were, according to them, promoting a “tobacco product.” This still happens. Thankfully Facebook gave in after a giant petition was passed around the internet. This is just one example of how various forces have misapprehended the truth, and are arrayed against our film and its message.

We experienced the same challenges in requests for interviews, film festival admissions, and distributions.

6.     What would you like to do next?

I’d like to keep making documentaries. I feel like there is a battle going on right now behind the scenes between powerful corporations, NGO’s, governments, and the people they are supposed to serve.

Hopefully we can help!