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Film review: Virunga

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Behdad Mahichi

Rated: 4/5 stars


“Virunga” is a heart-wrenching documentary made on pure courage and risk.

The opener portrays devastating clips of a funeral held for a fallen park ranger — One of many Congolese rangers who lost their life defending one of the world’s most endangered possessions.

Deep within the jungles of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) lies the Virunga National Park, home to a large portion of the world’s last 800 mountain gorillas. With multiple forces taking advantage of the country’s ravaged history, the mere existence of these gorillas is being threatened.

These park rangers are the ones who give up everything to pursue the dangerous task of guarding the park. These rangers are national heroes of the DRC.

“Virunga” was directed and written by Orlando von Einsiedel and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, who has for long been involved with various animal rights campaigns. The film has been nominated for an Oscar in the “best documentary feature” category.

The film follows gorilla caretaker Andre Bauma, head ranger Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo and the park’s chief warden Emmanuel de Merode on their day-to-day journey guarding the park—a task that happens to be way more intense than its title suggests. For the rangers in the DRC, conservation is war.

While constantly on guard for attacks and distant fighting, the rangers encounter incidents of gorilla poaching by local rebels who are trying to sabotage the wildlife population for territorial gains.

Adding to the catastrophe is SOCO International, a European oil and gas production company, who forces their way into the park and begins drilling against international law. The film follows undercover French journalist Melanie Gouby who takes a hidden camera on a “date” with a SOCO executive, and reveals shocking content on tape.

The film sticks true to being a “mix of investigative journalism and nature documentary.” Von Einsiedel, who spent months on end in a tent camping in the park to create the documentary, captures striking action-packed shots that are the daily reality in Virunga. Von Einsiedel strived to expose SOCO’s corruption to the world through film, which is exactly what he did.

“What I’m really scared about when this is published, is that people read it and then they just go on with their life and nothing is done about this,” says Gouby in the film. And that’s exactly what the crew behind Virunga is trying to avoid—this breathtaking documentary brings awareness to something that would probably be disregarded if only reported by news organizations.

Virunga is available to watch on Netflix Canada, and if you’re one of those cool kids who attended French immersion in high school, you won’t require subtitles for most of the movie as the DRC’s official language is French.


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