Virunga (2014)

Ⓒ Grain Media
Ⓒ Grain Media

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel Cast: André Bauma, Emmanuel de Merode, Mélanie Gouby, Rodrigue Katembo

This documentary film, which is available to stream on Netflix, follows the group of rangers working in the Virunga National Park in eastern Congo as they are faced with having to protect the park against Congolese rebels and the British company Soco International, which has plans to extract oil from the park. The film focuses specifically on four key players: André, who looks after orphan gorillas, Emmanuel, the park’s chief warden, Mélanie, a journalist investigating Soco’s activities, and Rodrigue, the park’s head ranger.

I have to be honest and admit that I watched this documentary thinking it was about cuddly gorillas- which, to be fair, it is in a sense, but actually it goes into so much more detail about the wider problems in the Congo. The gorillas act as a focal point for the documentary, but really Virunga is about resource conflicts, corruption in the Congo, and exploitation by outside corporations, and I learnt a lot from watching it. Some parts are quite hard to watch and a lot of it is very sad, but this just adds to the film’s effectiveness in getting the viewer to want to do something about the issues and to tell people about it. Some of the revelations really are quite shocking, for example Soco bribed the armed rebel groups to help them break through into the National Park in order to explore for oil, and yet they denied they had any involvement based on the claim that it doesn’t matter where the money comes from and they didn’t physically do anything themselves. Plus journalist Mélanie caught much of these revelations on a hidden camera, yet they still had the nerve to deny everything.

What struck me the most was that what Soco did in terms of getting the rebels to help them get into the park had a knock-on effect on the people who lived in villages in the area. They had to end up fleeing their homes because the Congolese army had been forced out by the rebels, just because Soco wanted to make money from the are in which they happened to live. The conflict in the Congo had mostly been suppressed by a fragile peace agreement in recent years, but once an outside organisation comes in wanting to exploit the country’s natural resources, it was sparked once again. So basically the selfishness and greed of Soco reignited the civil war in eastern Congo.

I would absolutely recommend this documentary film, it’s the sort of thing that people need to know about and make them consider the wider impact of demand for resources from Western nations. The film has a good website here which has regular updates and more info, plus Facebook and Twitter.

5 stars

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