Directed by: Orlando von Einsiedel.
Written by: Orlando von Einsiedel.
There are only about 800 Mountain Gorillas left anywhere in the world – the majority of which live in the Virunga National Park in the African country the Congo. In theory, the gorillas should be safe there – it is a protected area, and it is against both International and Congo law to destroy the Park. But when money is involved, laws often easy to get around. SOCO International is an oil company, who thinks there is oil underneath Lake Edward – which not only runs into the park, but it is also necessary for a few thousand people to make their lives on by fishing there. There is a brief overview at the beginning of the film, detailing the very violent history of the Congo, which becomes relevant as the film movies along, and that violence threatens to explode again. There is a rebel force who wants to overthrow the government – and the movie implies that these rebels may well be willing to allow SOCO to drill for oil in Lake Edward – in exchange for some of the profits, of course. All this changed the movie that Orlando von Einsiedel had gone to the Congo to make. He had gone there to make a movie about the difficulties of being a park ranger in Virunga National Park – and although that is part of the movie he ended up making, it isn’t the whole story.
Virunga is a message based documentary that wants to make the audience enraged at SOCO for wanting to drill in Lake Edward, and spoiling the beautiful National Park. The movie makes good use of French journalist Melanie Gouby, who gets video and audio recordings of people who work for SOCO – or the security firm they hired – who are not very secretive about what they are planning to do – and why. One basically says that first they have to figure out if oil is present in Lake Edward to begin with – and if there is, then it’s a simple calculation. Is the park worth more money by conserving it, or by exploiting it for its natural resources? Another is convinced that no one really cares about the gorillas in the park – but just wants the oil for themselves.
They clearly have not met Andre Bauma, one of the park rangers, and the one who spends his time “raising” four orphan gorillas – who need their protection if they are able to survive. You can perhaps question his methods of “raising” these gorillas, but you cannot question his love or commitment for them. There is also Emmanuel de Merode, a Belgian who is in charge of the park, and who is hated by people on all sides, because he seems to be willing to do anything to protect it – and unlike everyone else, doesn’t seem like he can be bought. There are other park rangers – some of whom try to get video footage of various African officials or rebels offering them bribes in order to sell out their jobs. But the Rangers we see in the movie at least aren’t willing to cave in to their demands.
Director Orlando von Einsiedel structures the film almost like a thriller – introducing the audience to the various characters, and slowly bringing them together. He couldn’t have scripted it better than it plays out.
SOCO makes a convenient villain in the movie – I mean, who the hell really likes oil companies, and especially ones who employ the type of people we see in the movie. And clearly, SOCO doesn’t have anything except their short term financial goals in mind when they look to see if they can exploit Lake Edward for its oil. But as the movie makes clear, they are just the latest in a long list of foreigners who have come in and exploited the Congo, its natural resources and its people. And they likely won’t be the last either.