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« You're welcome | Main | Dose is the poison – guest post by Pat Nurse »

A Billion Lives: Aaron Biebert and the mystery of the missing suitcase

It would take a heart of stone not to sympathise with Aaron Biebert.

Having shuttled relentlessly around the globe promoting his pro-vaping documentary A Billion Lives, the tireless director has landed in Paris for yet another premiere.

Unfortunately his suitcase - and his beloved tuxedo - failed to arrive with him. Worse, the culprits appear to be British Airways which, as a proud Brit, makes me feel personally responsible.

Biebert's army of supporters are naturally enraged that such a thing could happen and Twitter is abuzz with hints of recrimination against the bungling airline.

I jest, of course. Truth is, I have huge admiration for Biebert's tenacious efforts to promote his film to the wider world. If anyone deserved a medal for persistence it's him.

Since the world premiere in New Zealand in May, A Billion Lives has been shown in Poland (at the Global Forum on Nicotine), Australia and America.

In Biebert's home city of Milwaukee a remarkable 1400 people attended the official North American premiere.

Next stop after Paris is South Africa and there's talk of all-important screenings in Hollywood and New York.

I assume Biebert is driven by a combination of things - including a perfectly reasonable desire to make a name for himself and recoup his costs - but I don't doubt his commitment to the topic of his documentary.

That however could be a weakness because it seems to have become something of a crusade for him. Sometimes it helps to be a little more detached.

Also, much as I admire what Biebert has achieved, I can't endorse A Billion Lives because I still haven't seen it and I've yet to read what I would call a proper independent review from a genuinely impartial source.

Comments I have read - from people I expected to be rather more positive - were surprisingly lukewarm.

I've been struck, in particular, by the lack of promotion the film has received among UK vapers (and vaping advocates), many of whom saw the documentary in Warsaw in June but have hardly mentioned it.

The apathy is remarkable. Ditto the absence of a UK premiere which is incomprehensible given that the UK is probably the most pro-vaping country in the world at present.

It could perhaps be argued that because of that there's less reason to show it here but I don't buy that and I'd love to know why A Billion Lives has not yet had a UK screening.

I've written about this before and if I was Aaron Biebert I'd be less than impressed. That said, I don't know all the facts. On the face of it however it appears to be an epic fail on the part of vaping advocacy groups in Britain.

Another thing. I understand Biebert has been criticised by some vapers for not releasing A Billion Lives on YouTube so everyone can see it, free of charge.

That is extremely unfair and unreasonable. Campaign wise - as we saw in the UK with Brexit: The Movie which went straight to YouTube following a high profile West End premiere - there are genuine arguments in favour of doing just that.

However Brexit: The Movie was, to a considerable extent, crowdfunded. I don't know how A Billion Lives was funded (it would be interesting to know) but if we assume third party financial support was minimal it suggests Biebert's company has taken the principal financial hit.

The director has to earn a living - and pay his staff and other expenses - so he must be allowed to explore every commercial angle (cinema release, Netflix, DVD or whatever) before giving away his work for free (and there should be absolutely no compulsion for him to do that).

Also, given the impending referendum, Brexit: The Movie director Martin Durkin had no time to lose. For the film to have any impact it had to be seen by as many people as possible within a matter of days rather than weeks or months.

Posted on YouTube within 24 hours of its West End premiere, the film was soon viewed by over a million people. It currently has almost 2.5 million views.

Once Aaron Biebert has exhausted every other avenue YouTube is probably the way to go, but give him time.

That said, I'm not convinced that Brexit: The Movie was watched by many Remainers or changed many people's minds. What it did do very well was create a feelgood buzz and confirm the opinions of those who were already intent on voting Leave.

The premiere alone - media reports showed a long queue of people standing outside the cinema in Leicester Square - was invaluable publicity for the Leave campaign.

A Billion Lives has a different purpose, I think. Yes, it's a rallying point for vapers but its primary aim is to open people's eyes and change minds in territories where vaping is under serious threat.

(I realise this undermines my argument about a UK premiere but I nevertheless find that omission astonishing.)

In short, my reservations about A Billion Lives haven't changed since I first expressed them in November last year and they won't change until I actually see the film (when they will probably be confirmed!).

Nevertheless, as I've commented before, I do wish Aaron Biebert well. In particular I hope he gets his luggage back, including that damned tux, before the Paris premiere tonight.

Update: Good news! The tux turned up!

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Reader Comments (7)

Slight correction. You said "In Biebert's home city of Minnesota a remarkable 1400 people attended.."
Minnesota is a state. The U.S. premier was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is where Aaron now resides.

Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 17:14 | Unregistered CommenterJake Jacobsen

Sorry, my mistake. I knew it began with 'M'! Corrected.

Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 19:36 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Thing with Billion Lives is that it's not meant for vapers, so in that sense it kinda makes sense the audience which mostly consists of people already positive about vaping are not that moved by it.
How many outside the vaping scene has seen it, I can't say.. But it does seem it's not that many.

I saw it in Warsaw, and loved it but it's hard to promote such a thing before there's a real wide release for the masses.
Hopefully we'll get it in front of people who are not familiar with the vaping culture and immersed themselves in this sort of information soon enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 20:28 | Unregistered CommenterJuhani Orelma

Perhaps Biebert should compose a 5 minutes trailer of the film and place it in YouTube (perhaps he has done so, but I am not aware of this). This trailer could promote the film to a very large world wide audience without depriving him of the needed and wholly justified profit.

Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 20:47 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

Roberto, the first trailer for A Billion Lives was posted on YouTube in November 2015. I wrote about it here:

Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 21:30 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Juhani: "Thing with Billion Lives is that it's not meant for vapers, so in that sense it kinda makes sense the audience which mostly consists of people already positive about vaping are not that moved by it."

I'd say the opposite. It is massively lauded by those who would agree anyway, but all reviews I've seen from neutrals seem to have watched the first half hour and left!

My review is here

Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 23:33 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Hi Simon,

You'll be happy to know that I did retrieve my luggage shortly before the premiere and was able to make it in time (wearing my beloved tuxedo of course).

A couple notes:

1) You can read what impartial critics are saying about the movie at

2) I'm struck by the low level of support from some in the UK as well, considering there are five British people featured in the movie (same as the US). Perhaps they are listening to your previous blog posts about the movie.

3) I appreciate your commentary about funding, distribution, etc. We have taken money from no outside organizations to make this movie (we are a successful independent production company) and we will bring it to market properly. We will also market it properly, which is what the holdup is. This movie was created for the long-term, not some short-term campaign.

4) I look forward to you seeing the film. Hopefully you're available in late October/November. I don't think you'll love it, but I do hope you'll respect it.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 9:25 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Biebert

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