By Jenee Fowler
Photos by Attention Era Media
Just two days before the dreaded August 8 FDA deadline, A Billion Lives made its North American premiered in Milwaukee.
The documentary which is centered around how a billion people are expected to die over the next 100 years from smoking related illnesses, had already won multiple awards in film festivals around the world before director Aaron Biebert ambitiously booked the 1,400 seat Pabst Theatre.
They believed they had adequate support from the vaping community, but the seats were not fully sold out until the night before. In addition to countless members of the vaping community, Biebert’s close friends and family were on hand.
The same weekend at least two vape conventions were held in the US. In 2014, ECC (West Coast) had over 35,000 people in attendance. If even half that would have been in attendance, the theatre would have been booked more than 12 times over.
I spent the weekend in Milwaukee for the premier (thanks to Blue Line Vapor) in hopes of learning more about the creators of this ground-breaking film. Why would non-vapers (fun fact about the film crew) travel around the world to find the truth about something in which they had no personal stake? Why would such talented people would take up our cause, and do
for us what we don’t seem to be able to do for ourselves?
Created by persons outside the industry who felt the way many non-smokers had felt before about vaping at large, A Billion Lives is not a film about blowing clouds. In fact, most of the shots of vapers doing their thing are only of the inhale, and rarely on the exhale — something that Biebert said was intentional.
“Those huge clouds can be intimidating when you don’t understand what it is,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be the first impression.”
Producer Jennifer Biebert admits that she “used to think like most people who have never been addicted, and didn’t understand why they couldn’t just quit.” But the film delves into that early on and poignantly, yet empathetically examines the smoking addiction.
The North American premiere was also the first time that a large number of vapers had been in the audience. Biebert seemed amused as he recalled the vapers in attendance timely outbursts.
“There were points in the film that we, as film-makers,
just wanted to shout ‘Yes!’ to, and last night you did,” he said. “Moments where so many blatant lies were exposed and summed up in a single razor-sharp sentence. Like David Goerlitz, (the original Winston Man’s) interview. Or the part where we finally showed cloud-blowing with some of our talented composer’s work behind it. You all just roared.”
Unfortunately, Aaron, Jenni, and the crew haven’t always felt so supported. “Vapers are the biggest enemy of vaping” Aaron stated candidly during our lakefront interview the Sunday following the premier.
It was surprisingly difficult to fill a 1,400 seat auditorium for a film that overturns some serious misconceptions both the public at large and misinformed professionals have been spreading.
As a Chicago resident, we pay taxes that supported a public smear campaign on vaping. The shift from curiosity to hostility has been more and more evident since. Milwaukee is a different story, like rewinding several years of vaping history. Before there was hate, there was curiosity.
When we were checking in at the Intercontinental Hotel in Milwaukee for the premier weekend, we noticed people vaping in the lobby. I asked the clerk and she said, “oh, it’s on the schedule. Yeah, that’s fine” after referring to a printout behind the counter.
Later, walking back from the premiere’s after party we were questioned by police while happily blowing clouds into the street. “Hey, what is that?” one officer asked followed by “that smells really good” by the other.
They’d seen a lot of people that night doing the same thing and had wondered what it was all about. We told them about the A Billion Lives premier and they said they’d be interested in watching it when it was released.
During the entire weekend, while vaping on patios and inside hotel lobbies, not one fake cough or gag was heard in response to our vapor.
There are still so many lives to be saved, an untapped demographic of uncles and grandparents. Of conservative middle-Americans who genuinely hate smoking and don’t know the truth about vaping.
Aaron, Jenni and the crew are all fighting for us in the one of the most influential arenas of all : the media. They aren’t doing this because they vape or smoke, but because they refuse to watch a billion people die in the next century without trying to stop it.