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!

Opening Night, April 28,2017 to the 11th Edition of Addis International Film Festival (AIFF) is a DO NOT MISS event.


The Addis International Film Festival (AIFF) is not a red carpet festival, but is instead largely defined by quality and seasonal timing. The Addis Festival was launched in 2007 by Initiative Africa, a local NGO, to promote cultural exchanges and mutual understanding among nations and to develop further cooperation among filmmakers of the world. Here is a look at some of the films to be introduced by the film makers themselves next week in Addis Ababa, at Hager Fiker Theater and the Italian Cultural Institute.

·         In his terrific new documentary, ‘A Revolution in Four Seasons’, Jessie Deeter , largely tells the story of two women with opposing political views fighting for their different versions of a democratic future for Tunisia, the country that sparked the Arab Spring. Journalist Emna Ben Jemaa envisions a country governed by free speech and without corruption of the former regime. In contrast, Jawhara Ettis of the Islamist party Ennahda works towards a Tunisia guided Islamic principles.

·         Mackonen Michael, an Ethiopian film maker, will present 'Heaven and Earth' the story of Ethiopia’s religious tolerance, covering a millennium of Ethiopia monastic culture and ecclesiastical education. Presenting the development of indigenous Christianity in an African setting, the film provides a corrective to still prevalent stereotypes of Africa as a dark continent in need of enlightenment by outside forces.

·         'The Salt of the Earth', an Oscar nominated documentary by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders embarks on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty.

·         'Roaring Abyss', produced in Addis Ababa, showcases a sound journey across the mountains, deserts and forests of Ethiopia and its cultural universe. Roaring Abyss will take your through an inedit collection of invaluable importance for the transmission and preservation of the African heritage.

“We may not be able to promise glitz and glamour, but as a small independent film festival we will feature some of the best documentary films of recent years, including Fire at Sea the 2016 Oscar nominated film by Gianfranco Rosi , or the winner of the Zurich Film Festival, Future Baby”, says Kidist Getachew, this year’s AIFF coordinator. It’s a small festival, but with its army of dedicated staff and pleasant volunteers the Addis International Film Festival has built an ecosystem unto itself to succeed, for the eleventh times in a row, in putting together the Festival.

Supported by the Packard Foundation, the festival this year is also organizing a workshop on ‘Gender Reproductive Health and Media’ for some 40 media professionals, young filmmakers and communication experts on field on two rounds on the 1st-2nd May, 2017.

The AIFF is now the oldest continually running film festival in Ethiopia, drawing its standing to consistently present abundant programmes of new documentaries, panel discussions, entertainment and educational workshops. This year’s festival is from April 28th through May 3rd 2017.

The 11th Addis International Film Festival Is HERE!

AIFF 2017 Official Poster

The long awaited Entry for the 11th AIFF is here. On our 11th anniversary we plan to go bigger and more amazing, we hope to see you at the Festival.

Submissions 2017

Films for the Addis International Film Festival 2017 can be sent in until February 25, 2017.

You are required to fill in the entry form prior to submitting your film to our festival.

As you fill out the form you will also have the option to send in an online viewing link with password instead of DVD.

Please, send your DVD PAL format to

Initiative Africa
P.O.Box 1123
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia