E360 Film Contest

In a Chilean Forest Reserve, the Remarkable Darwin’s Frog Endures

Four emerging filmmakers from Latin America collaborated to film Darwin’s frog and the biologist who studies the endangered species in Chile’s Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve. “Hojarasca: The Hidden Hope” is the Third-Place Winner of the 2023 Yale Environment 360 Film Contest.

2023 Yale Environment 360 Film Contest

Worldwide, amphibians are going extinct — victims of habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and fungal diseases. But in the Valdivian temperate rainforest of southern Chile, Darwin’s frog persists in small and highly fragmented populations, including in the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, a private nature preserve of 232 square miles.

First described by Charles Darwin, the endangered frog — a smallish leaf mimic with a pointy nose — is known for its unique reproductive strategy. Males whistle to attract mates. After females lay their eggs on the ground, males swallow them, holding them in their vocal sac as the young metamorphose. Six to eight weeks after hatching, small adults make their exit through the males’ mouths.

Chilean biologist Verónica Toledo has studied Darwin’s frog and is a strong advocate for its protection. “Hojarasca: The Hidden Hope” follows Toledo as she brings her young daughter into the forest for the girl’s first sighting of what was once one of the most common amphibians in the southern South American forest. “I have always believed that we are not the center of the universe,” says Toledo, who is conservation director of the Huilo Huilo Foundation. “We are part of nature, and therefore the perpetuity of all these processes depends on us.”

About the Filmmakers: Cristóbal Santamaría, Diego Gamero, Manuel Novillo, and Solange Yépez met and learned about Darwin’s frog at the Santiago Wild Festival’s Audiovisual Laboratory, a training workshop for young Latin Americans held last March in the Lakes Region of northern Patagonia. There they were introduced to Verónica Toledo, who inspired them to tell the story of this frog.

About the Contest: Now in its 10th year, the Yale Environment 360 Film Contest honors the best environmental documentaries, with the aim of recognizing work that has not previously been widely seen. This year we received 582 submissions from 76 countries across six continents, with the winners selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon, and e360’s executive editor Roger Cohn.