Video outreach unites environmental activists in Chile

In late 2007, a group of young Chileans visited Punta de Choros, one of Chile's natural wonders and home to 80% of the world's Humbolt penguins and over 800 other species. As the group walked through the small town, they noticed a paper on a wall that advertised the plans to building four coal thermoelectric plants in the region, which would threaten the fragile eco-system.

The poster had been distributed by the Movement for the Defence of the Environment (MODEMA) as an initial advocacy effort to create awareness to local inhabitants. The visitors, lead by Cristóbal Díaz de Valdés, took this information seriously and started a movement called Chao Pescao (which in Spanish means Bye-Bye Fish) using video and social networks as awareness and mobilisation means to stop the coal thermoelectric projects in Punta de Choros. "We decided to do something," said de Valdes. "And getting cameras with friends we started a documentary research that until now keeps surprising us."

Over a dozen young video artists joined forces to document the threats that thermoelectric plants sought against wild life and the inhabitants of the areas. A documentary was filmed combining information about the richness of Punta de Choros and how other regions in Chile had been impacted by thermoelectric activity. Scientists and ordinary Chileans witnessed how in addition to massive natural destruction caused by sea temperature rise and pollution, thermoelectric plants also lead to an increase of heart illnesses and cancer of local inhabitants.

In order to promote the documentary, on-line and off-line campaigns were launched throught Chile. In Santiago, dozens of street screenings powered by street bikes were held showing the documentary's trailer. The documentary was later screened in the country's most important film festivals and it's trailer viewed tens of thousands of times. The on-line and off-line movements combined themselves smoothly as Facebook event invitations increased the buzz on the topic and strengthened public demonstrations. 

Most citizen demonstrations were immediately uploaded and shared through YouTube and among Chao Pescao's over 10,000 Facebook group members. Chao Pescao quickly became more than documentary; it became a social movement that gathered the Chilean society in protection of the country's main marine reserves and the world's largest home to Humbolt penguins. In less than two weeks, Chao Pescao's web site received over 100,000 visits forcing mainstream media to research and debate whether the coal thermoelectric plant construction plans for over 10 days.

Research on the contrasting technical analysis on the project's environmental impact were put in the spotlight placing pressure on the multinational company, Suez Energy and local university Universidad Católica del Norte. Most relevantly, public pressure was felt directly by politicians as well. On January 8th, 2010, the Chilean government rejected the plans for the plants and canceled the construction of the coal thermoelectric plants in the Punta de Choros region. In addition, the new presidential candidates were pressured to state environmental statements and commitments to keep Punta de Choros clean.

TOOLS USED: video cameras, laptops and graphic design and video editing software

REACH: Chile

RESOURCES: video cameras, laptops, video editing software, Internet access

COST: detailed cost unavailable; all video recording and production as well as all outreach activities were done by volunteers

TIME: 2 years

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: 3 out of 5; a committed professional video production team working as volunteers is hard to find.

Story by Juan Casanueva