When Arianne Alcorta saw the violence and massive protests unfolding in her native country of Venezuela this past February, she instinctively started gathering information and materials about what was happening using social media aggregation. Currently in her last year as a journalism student at the University of Miami, Alcorta spent countless hours monitoring the situation on social media and recording phone calls and saving photos from her friends and family still living in the country. After a month, Alcorta realized that she had compiled a full narrative that deserved to be told.
The final product, a 20 minute documentary titled “Venezuela Fights for Freedom” published on YouTube has garnered more than 200,000 hits at the moment. (Vimeo version used below)
She incorporated YouTube videos, Twitter reports, recorded phone calls, reenactments, and text messaged photos and videos to tell the nail biting story of what happened to three Caracas students when peaceful protests turned violent. The documentary is edited in a way that is mutually intelligible in English and Spanish.
Fusion reached out to Alcorta to ask a few questions about why she made the documentary, and about the innovative way that she produced it:
FUSION: I know you are Venezuelan, and you have living here for some time. The opposition protests have been going on for a long time, on and off. So at what point in seeing the protests this round did you decide that ‘hey, this is something I need to start tracking and pulling together in a cohesive way?’
ALCORTA: Well the opposition groups have been protesting for a long time, like after the election [of Maduro in April, 2013]. But the point in which I said ‘okay, this needs to be reported’ was during the protests of February 12th. That was the point where there was explicit proof of security forces using such force against unarmed students protesting for their rights. And then I looked up the statutes, and they stated that government forces can only use firearms against the citizens when all efforts for negotiation have been tried and exhausted. That was obviously not the case, especially since I was corroborating with several students on the ground about what was really happening.
FUSION: The way that you put this doc together is to my knowledge one of the first times that someone has used this combination of sourcing from social media and traditional reporting to tell such a compelling documentary story. Did you know you were making a doc, or did it just turn into that?
ALCORTA: Actually, I didn’t know that it was going to be a documentary on February 12 when I started. It was a mix of all this frustration that I felt, all this pain that I was feeling when I saw the thousands of images coming into my social streams and my phone from my grandmother and my family that remain there. I just couldn’t believe that it was happening, and I had to look for a way to funnel it. There were so many emotions in our conversations that I knew I wanted to do a video package about it, which I did. And I also started uploading the separate interviews on YouTube, but then I realized I had so much material from all over the world that it could be a whole documentary that would really tell the whole story.
FUSION: As of right now it has more than 200,000 views on YouTube. What has the reaction been like from Venezuelans, and from other people across the world?
ALCORTA: The vast majority has been really thankful for me putting it together, especially the international people who are not Venezuelan. Because now they have a solid way to know how us Venezuelans are feeling, and what we are going through. Others liked it, but they say that it passed over certain things too quickly, like the issue of paramilitary groups and the shortages of goods.
FUSION: Have you shown the documentary to any of your journalism teachers? And have they given you any feedback for it?
ALCORTA: I was actually showing it to one of my professors today, but I still haven’t gotten some of the feedback. But I do have some other professors’ critiques, and they are really impressed, and really sorry about the situation that is happening.
FUSION: How did you decide to include yourself and your own story in the documentary, instead of reporting it as you would do it traditionally, where you leave yourself out of it?
ALCORTA: Everyday I was seeing more and more strong images coming out, and I had this feeling of frustration that said 'this is not only about them— it’s about me as well.' I am also Venezuelan. I am one of them, and I am feeling what they are feeling. It doesn’t matter that I’m not there right now, I was born there, I am the same age and I have the same rights that they have, and plus I am a journalist. Journalists there have been shut down and shut out, and I will not be silenced. I am outside the country where I can exercise my rights, so there was no reason not to involve myself in it.
Some people might say that I broke the rules by not reporting it as a third-person, but sometimes I think it is necessary to break that rule if the reason is substantial enough.
FUSION: Will you be going directly into the journalism world after you graduate?
ALCORTA: Yes. I will. My dream has always been to inform other people, to be the voice of the voiceless, and to report the truth that others are trying to shut down.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.