As her final exams got closer, Arianne Alcorta worked day and night for two weeks producing a documentary film about the students’ protests in Venezuela.
But the University of Miami senior’s project was not a part of a class assignment. Alcorta, 21, is Venezuelan and said she felt responsible for giving a voice to thousands of students in her country who took to the streets to protest against a government they consider oppressive.
“Had I been there, I couldn’t have done anything due to censorship,” Alcorta said recently. She lives in South Florida and has family in her native country. “I did this to show the students there that they are not alone, that there is support for them abroad.”
The 20-minute documentary that Alcorta posted on YouTube under the title of “Venezuela Fights for Freedom” has had more than 340,000 viewers since the middle of March.
Alcorta obtained her journalism degree this month in a graduation ceremony at the BankUnited Center and won a scholarship for a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York.
About 3,500 students will graduate from UM in May, and if last year’s crop is any indication, 28 percent will go on to obtain a master’s degree.
Though her documentary was not part of a thesis or a final exam, Alcorta said the skills she acquired in her classes helped her finish the project.
To tell the stories of the students, Alcorta used an innovating method to create documentaries known as crowd-sourcing, which consists of enlisting information and help from groups of people, typically through social media.
Alcorta was able to identify and contact people who had taken part in the protests in Caracas and who had appeared in some of the images of the demonstrations shown online, and interviewed them by phone. She also used information published on Twitter and Facebook, as well as clips of the opposition leaders like Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López.
She also documented on video the demonstrations in Miami in recent months, in which thousands of people showed their support to the cause of the Venezuelan students.
“Once I had compiled so much information and realized that there was a lot more online, I knew that I had to put it all together in one place so that the youths there could see it in the same way we see it from abroad,” she said. “People in Venezuela have contacted me to tell me that they were encouraged by the documentary and motivated to continue fighting because now they realize they are not alone.”
The protests, which began in Caracas in February amid an economic crisis and a nationwide shortage of basic products, have left more than 40 people dead, hundreds wounded, and thousands under arrest.
Several media outlets have been affected by the apparent wave of censorship by the Nicolás Maduro’s government, which has closed radio programs and newspapers that have not been able to publish for lack of newsprint. The government even revoked (and later returned) the press credentials of CNN journalists in the country, and withdrew the signal of Colombian news channel NTN24.
The crisis led a representative of the Inter-American Press Association to declare in February that “freedom of the press (in that country) had practically disappeared.”
Even so, Alcorta, who wishes someday to travel to her country of birth to film a documentary from neighborhoods and be able to interview the people most affected by the growing violence, keeps her hopes high.
She is convinced that social media are the future of journalism and of a society that wishes to preserve its freedom.
“The lack of freedom of the press has forced ordinary citizens to become street reporters,” said Alcorta, who believes social networks have played a fundamental role in spreading information about the protests.
“I suddenly received a video of someone being beaten up and forwarded it to all my contacts. Thousands of others have done the same.”
According to Alcorta, the Venezuelan public now sees the networks as their primary source of news.
For example, her maternal grandmother, Zoraida Ortega, 85, who lives alone in the center of Chacao, the area where most of the protests have taken place in Caracas, has a Facebook account that she uses regularly to learn about the violence on the streets.
“It’s crucial. People share information about where the violence is happening, where not to go and where there is no tear gas,” Alcorta said.
The young journalist, who moved to Seville at the age of 15 with her parents, José Ignacio Alcorta and Adela Ortega, and her sister Alexandra, said it was also her wish that her family and the Venezuelan people stopped living in a state of violence that encouraged her to make the documentary.
“Violence affects everybody — those in favor of the government and those against it,” she said.