When Jaco Galdino, an artist and teacher, first heard that a company was planning to build a massive shrimp farm near his hometown of Caravelas, Brazil, he was optimistic. When completed, this 1,000-hectare (2,470-acre) property would become Brazil's largest shrimp farm, with much of its product destined for European and other foreign markets. Newspaper ads promised that the farm would provide 2,000 local jobs — a significant number in a poor area of about 20,000 residents.
Then Galdino began to hear stories of shrimp farms in other places — farms that had failed to live up to their promises. Between 1998 and 2003, Brazil experienced the fastest growth in shrimp farming in the world. However, shrimp farms are highly destructive; large areas of mangroves are often cut down to make room for them. The loss of these mangroves disrupts the life cycle of the fish that use the mangrove roots as a nursery — including the wild shrimp populations that support the local fisheries economy. In addition, once the farms are built, they release large quantities of chemicals and waste materials into the surrounding estuary.
So Galdino set out to do something about it. Several years earlier, Arte Manha — a local community arts organization run by Galdino and his family — had joined SOS Abrolhos, a network of local organizations led by CI and partners that teamed up to prevent oil and gas exploration in the area. They joined forces again to advocate for the protection of mangrove forests critical to ecosystem health and local food security.
In 2006, as SOS Abrolhos began a communications campaign to spread the word to the public about the dangers of shrimp farming, Galdino's contribution was a 16-minute documentary film. He shot much of the footage while traveling with several community leaders and CI staff to the state of Ceará in northern Brazil to see how shrimp farming there was impacting local people.
As a result of this word-of-mouth campaign, more and more people began to fight against the creation of the shrimp farm.
"The experience of Ceará … made it clear that shrimp farming was very harmful for the environment," Galdino says. "Besides causing a lot of environmental damage, they caused social impact too. The communities ended up being evicted from their fishing grounds and running out of their main source of income, which is seafood and shellfish."
As CI and SOS Abrolhos learned more about the farm planned for the Cassurubá estuary, it became clear that rather than providing 2,000 jobs as promised, the farm would likely only provide about 200 jobs — a number that doesn't account for the thousands of livelihoods that would be lost by fishermen.
In addition, an estimated 300 families live in these mangroves, many of whom are indigenous people whose ancestors were driven from more desirable lands by Portuguese colonists. Others are descendants from escaped slaves. Over many years, these scattered communities have become dependent on the crabs, mollusks and other resources provided by the mangroves.
A first-time filmmaker, Galdino shot and edited his documentary in 16 days, working around the clock and teaching himself as he went. He titled his work "It's All Lies," a reference to a little-known Orson Welles film shot partially in Bahia called "It’s All True."
Then came the challenge of distributing the film. There are no movie theaters in Caravelas and the surrounding towns, so Galdino made a screen out of a bed sheet and showed the film in the village square. CI helped him distribute the film, traveling to mangrove communities and playing the DVDs on a laptop.
The public's reaction to the film was more than he'd hoped for. "When they saw people from the [Ceará] community talking about the losses they had with shrimp farming, the film had a very big effect ... much bigger than what we expected."
As a result of this word-of-mouth campaign, more and more people began to fight against the creation of the shrimp farm. In 2008, they got their wish: Then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself visited the region to declare the creation of Cassarubá Extractive Reserve in the area where the farm would have been.
In many ways, life hasn't changed much since the creation of the reserve. Families living in mud huts collect mollusks that cling to mangrove roots; further offshore, brightly-painted shrimping boats putter out to their wild fishing grounds. In the case of Cassurubá, this lack of change is a good thing — another environmental crisis averted.