Vape Wave: A disconcerting silent revolution
by Muriel Del Don
- The latest feature by Jan Kounen, which was presented at the Geneva International Film Festival Tous Ecrans, is a rich and unexpected journey into the world of e-cigarettes
Following on from two documentaries which were also imbued with a resolutely personal style: Other Worlds (2004) which is about the Shipido medicine men in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon and Darshan: the Embrace (2005), the portrait of Amma, the “Divine Indian Mother”, Jan Kounen turns his camera back on reality with Vape Wave [+see also:
film profile], presented at the Geneva International Film Festival Tous Ecrans, an at times surreal investigation into society’s sworn enemy, the tobacco industry.
The Vape Wave project was born from Kounen’s desire to investigate a world that is still relatively unknown, or at least “poorly understood”: that of vapers (users of e-cigarette). Between information that often peddles lies and unreliable research, it’s not easy to understand what this transformation means and what the long-term consequences are for smokers. Jan Kounen decides to broach this issue through the prism of his direct experience as a former smoker who has converted to vaping, a sort of real witness to an underground revolution. After plunging into the abyss of the world of e-cigarettes, populated by enthusiasts and resourceful geeks, and after carrying out meticulous research on the Internet, a place of privileged encounter between vapers, Kounen tries to discover why an invention that could hypothetically save millions of lives is still viewed with mistrust if not outright disgust. His camera examines and embraces this culture, trying to capture its essence. Funding for the film was just as non-conformist and subversive as the project itself: production company Media Screen (in Lausanne), headed up by Marc Obéron, managed to secure financial support from E-Movie ANGELS, a group of private investors in Switzerland which supports films with international ambition. Vape Wave also received support from crowdfunding platform Touscoprod, and from various supporters of vaping, through its website (the money raised will be used to advertise the film).
More than a documentary in the classic sense of the term, Vape Wave is an invite to reflect on a still relatively unknown world that deserves to be brought to light. Jounen takes us on a journey through animated sequences (the quick recap of the evolution in the use of tobacco, from indigenous cultures that considered it sacred to today’s vaping culture, is fascinating), interviews with additologists, former smokers who have converted to e-cigarettes and the producers of aromas for vapers, and archive images. All accompanied by the voice and magnetic presence of the director, who guides us on this journey. The images are ultra-rich, at times a bit poppy, in keeping with the revolutionary world of e-cigarettes. Kounen allows himself surprising visual freedom, unconcerned with the (hypothetical) barriers between documentary and fiction, reality and fantasy (in reference above all to the animated sequences), but is careful to portray the truth (the film is shot in a dozen or so different countries, opening up the reflection internationally). Despite the serious nature of its subject matter, Vape Wave also contains a healthy dose of humour which gives the whole thing welcome levity. All in all a sensorial and engaging film that opens the debate on a subject that merits further exploration.
(Translated from Italian)
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