UK Premiere: Tobacco Companies Targeting Toddlers

    French investigative journalist and filmmaker Paul Moreira, 52, is used to covering difficult issues, having filmed in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. But even he was shocked to meet a four-year-old heavy smoker in Indonesia.

    In his his latest documentary Big Tobacco, Young Targets he investigates the tobacco industry’s ruthless quest to recruit children and teenagers as smokers resulting; in millions of smoking related deaths each year.

    The film, which has its UK premiere on 8 February as part of the London Investigative Film Festival, adds to the filmmaker’s long list of critically acclaimed films: Iraq, a Nation in Agony (best documentary at Monte Carlo International Film Festival) and Afghanistan: On the Dollar Trail (best investigative documentary FIGRA International Film Festival).

    Known for his ability to get to the heart of the story, going to places many people wouldn’t dare visiting, he is a familiar figure to the fans of the London Investigative Film Film Festival.

    Formerly from 90 Minutes, one of France’s leading monthly investigative programme on Canal+, he and his co-anchorman Luc Hermann founded Premierès Lignes in 2006, an independent television news agency, producing investigative documentaries for French networks and international distribution.

    But his films are not always serious, he enjoyed making an investigative film about sex during the Arab Spring.

    "I loved doing this film. It was like coming to people with questions they were never asked before” says Moreira.

    With now over 20 films under his belt, Moreira is determined to have freedom to work in the field, declining a well-paid position to continue making his own documentaries (and not interview men in suits) . So expect more unusual and hard-hitting work from this exciting investigative filmmaker.

    Here he tells the CIJ about his most recent film ahead of its UK premiere.

    CIJ: Why did you choose the tobacco companies as a subject? So much has been done about it… Did you have an inspiration of some sort?

    Paul Moreira: My uncle died in 2011 from lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker. Tried to stop so many times but he was so hooked up on it. His daughter told me: "he bought his cancer, every day"...

    No other industry has made so much money from the deaths of human beings. I wanted to bring something new about it. I was also inspired by a book by Robert Proctor, The Golden Holocaust, based on many classified documents, it revealed the tricks tobacco industry used to promote its products, including corrupting scientific research and product placements in the movies.

    But I wanted to find a new angle. That is when I met an insider. He gave me a lot of very useful information on how the number one target for the tobacco companies were young people, as there is little chance of winning a new consumer after 25.

    So I decided to choose this angle. Despite public assurances, they were still resorting to tricks in order to seduce kids into smoking. But it was much more stealth this time.

    CIJ: How did you start your research and what lead you to the four-year-old smoker? A really shocking image.

    PM: I worked closely with an NGO in Indonesia that was very good with contacts. Very professional. I must confess I felt weird when I arrived in the little village where Jihan, the smoking toddler, lived. The family knew it was wrong to let a little child smoke. So we had to be extra respectful and not too judgemental to be able to work and do interviews.

    We decided to stay a couple of days with the family. Not doing the interview in one hour and leaving. We stayed with them, that is how we got this quality of relationship. We also had a very light equipment.

    CIJ: Did tobacco companies give you any grief or create problems for you or the producers during or after making the film? v PM: They refused to give any access to any kind of spokesperson. I knew from my insider that they had created a taskforce and shared their info between the companies about what I was doing. They erased a lot of material from their computers for fear of leaks.

    Whenever there was an event where we could meet them, they would send security to push us away or even evict us from commercial fairs. In France, they can be pretty brutal. Which is not very smart because, of course, everything was filmed...

    CIJ: What difficulties did you have to face when making the documentary?

    PM: No access to the industry. Sometimes we had to resort to hidden cameras. Basically every time we would catch them red handed it would be with a hidden camera. Which is not very comfortable...

    CIJ: Did anything shock you while making the film?

    PM: Yes, the visit to the lung cancer hospital of Jakarta. One of the people we interviewed died the next day.

    And another one [that] was very moving - he was 40 years old, a young guy, he knew his life was over in a matter of months. He was crying with fear, he could see death coming closer and closer, slowly... You could not help identifying to him. He was leaving a family behind, two kids... Very, very sad.

    Paul Moreira will be speaking after the screening of Big Tobacco, Young Targets on the 8 February as part of the London Investigative Film Festival 2014 at City University London.