Virunga (2014)

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

“You must justify why you are on this earth. Gorillas justify why I am here.” (André Bauma)

Too often we see images of the beauty this world has to offer out of context. Sprawling wildlife, infinite-seeming forests, animals untouched by humans performing daily tasks all being captured by unobtrusive lenses. This documentary refuses to do that.

Nestled in the Congo is a national park by the name of Virunga. The park is awe inducing: the mountains loom large and strong on the horizon, the forest is thick and greener than emerald, the wildlife plentiful and majestic. Shots of volcanoes, centipedes, hippo, elephants, and, yes, gorillas appear throughout the film. Yet, all these beautiful shots of nature are juxtaposed with the less attractive threats to the region and its inhabitants, human, animal and plant. Rebel militias threaten the region with political and violent instability. Everyone is a poacher for the right price. Personal gain and bargaining for power render unstable an already rocky environment. In all this turmoil a group of brave men are fighting for the park and its ecosystem. We learn early on that 130 rangers have lost their lives protecting the park. They take their job extremely seriously and have made it their mission to defend it, including the last remaining mountain gorillas in existence. To make the story more personal we meet André Bauma, a Congolese man who tends to a gorilla refuge home to four young apes who are being cared for until they are ready to be reintroduced back into the wild.

The biggest threat to the area and to the already precarious dynamics that plague it is SOCO International, an oil company that has arrived in the Congo in order to exploit its natural resources after the discovery of an oil reserve just below the park’s surface. Thanks, in part, to the investigations of a young French journalist named Mélanie Gouby light is shed on the horrific lack of morals and principals of the company and its representatives. The hateful speech and despicable worldview two SOCO employees exhibit makes for some of the more indigestible and grotesque moments in the film – which is a powerful concept given the war and battle imageries that appear as well.

Yet the movie also shows hope and a message of resilience. The park has withstood a lot and is still standing strong and will continue to do so. It does, though, need help to continue the battle.

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