Image from "The Video the Colombian Government Doesn't Want Us to See"
A video depicting the violent forced eviction of nearly 600 people on the banks of Colombia’s Magdalena River has gone viral, eliciting a huge response from viewers around the world, including the President of Colombia (who was obliged to respond to the video publicly and defend the actions of the police force). Since being uploaded on February 20, the video has registered nearly 925,000 views, making it one of the most watched “Nonprofits & Activism” videos on YouTube. The community filmmaker, Bladimir Sánchez, has since fled the region after receiving threats of violence.
A post by our friends at Global Voices first brought this video to our attention, and while many citizen journalists around the world are documenting forced evictions, we at WITNESS wanted to know why this particular video struck such a chord?
After speaking with Sánchez, here’s a quick summary of my thoughts on why the video resonates with so many people:
- Content: By pairing powerful images with personal testimony, Sánchez’s video effectively conveys information and emotion with a sense of urgency.
- Style: The camera work is steady and Sánchez uses a creative and unique editing style to develop the story.
- Distribution: To put it simply, Sánchez is social media savvy. Using sites like Facebook and YouTube, he shared the video with friends, community members and activist groups, who then continued to spread the word.
A few details before you watch…On February 14 &15, in the southwestern region of Huila, riot police assaulted local community members who had peacefully gathered to defend their lands and their livelihoods from the construction of the El Quimbo hydroelectric dam. A number of injuries resulted from the violence and one man lost his right eye. Twenty-four hours prior to the eviction, authorities blocked access to the site, preventing reporters and international observers from entering. The Colombian government and EMGESA, the transnational corporation funding the $837 million dollar dam, maintain that they are following strict protocols to protect human rights, despite the visual evidence.
- Video: ‘The Video the Colombian Government Doesn’t Want Us To See’ [Spanish]
- Date Created/Posted: Shot February 14 & 15, Posted February 20
- Who Made it: Bladimir Sánchez
- Location: Colombia
- Human Rights Issues: Forced Evictions
About Bladimir Sánchez
Sánchez is a Colombian filmmaker and activist from the Huila region who has been documenting the local resistance since 2008. He has also made several videos about the environmental impacts of the El Quimbo dam. He frequently works alongside ASOQUIMBO, an association of communities affected by the dam project.
Audience & Goal
This video is targeted towards the general public and international peace and human rights organizations. According to Sánchez, “The goal is to show the world the truth. To show that the Colombian government, working in conjunction with European transnational corporations, is bombarding its own people with teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. They are forcing them to leave their land.” The video is also intended to communicate the urgent need for legal and humanitarian support.
Sánchez wants this video to deepen viewers’ understanding of the conflict, while also calling on them to reflect on the state of Colombia’s democracy. Sánchez notes the irony of democratic governments protecting the interests of transnational corporations while violating the rights of their own citizens
“I don’t start with an argument, I start with images.” -Bladimir Sánchez
Notes on Production
Voice: For me, this video’s power lies within the emotions conveyed through the personal testimonies. Miners, fishermen, and farmers speak about the violent eviction and the imminent loss of their livelihoods. Interviews with a journalist and a professor articulate humanitarian and analytic perspectives, while the local archbishop voices community members’ outrage.
Style: “I don’t start with an argument, I start with images.” Sánchez’s videos present a harsh and overwhelming reality. He wants to make the viewer feel like they were present. “[I want them to] sense the smell the of the dust, the smell of the land, of the sweat, so that they understand what it feels like to be in this situation.”
Distribution & Impact
Using social media and his connections with environmental organizations, human rights defenders, and groups like Anonymous, Sánchez was able to reach his target audience. Nearly 60% of the views on YouTube were directed to the video through Facebook. YouTube awarded the video a “Bronze Trending Medal” after it received nearly 1 million views and over 3,500 comments in the span of one week.
Although protests against the dam began in 2008, the issue has not received much mainstream attention. In the past week, national news sources and radio programs have upped their coverage, provoking a defensive response to the video from the President of Colombia. Sánchez believes that many journalists have avoided discussing the El Quimbo project for fear of reprisal from the government (Reporters Without Borders lists Colombia in the top 40 most dangerous countries for journalists).
Suggestions for other Video for Change Filmmakers
“If you can reach the hearts of the people, of the masses, they will be more open to finding out the truth,” says Sánchez. He believes that a filmmaker’s use of images, sound, voices, and colors, can inspire viewers to seek out more information and become more engaged.
- On March 6, EMGESA is scheduled to divert a large section of the Magdalena River, a major step forward in the construction of the dam. Protesters are already reoccupying the disputed shores and ASOQUIMBO is calling for action February 28-March 7.
- See this list of international events [Eng/Sp]
- Sign a petition from CENSAT and International Rivers [Eng]
- Handout an informative flyer from the ‘Polinizaciones’ blog [Eng]
Follow On Twitter: #Quimbo, #opquimbo, #noalquimbo
- Press release from CENSAT
- Earth First News In the Path of the Mining-Energy Locomotive—Resisting Colombia’s Quimbo Hydroelectric Project
- International Rivers Colombia’s El Quimbo in Limbo
- Press release from CENSAT
- Schedule of events from Ríos Vivos (PDF)
- Get updates from the ‘No Al Quimbo’ blog
March 14th is International Day of Action for Rivers. Find out about events in your area. Read more about how other communities have used video to mobilize communities against dam projects around the world.