“I’ve accepted to give the best of myself, so that wildlife can be safeguarded beyond all pressure. Beyond all spirit of greediness about money. Beyond all things.”
Wow. This was one of the most emotion-provoking documentaries I have ever seen. As we go about our everyday lives, it is hard to think about what else is going on in the world. Virunga is able to make a culture that is so foreign to us, present, and open our eyes to the struggles that so many others face everyday.
Virunga is a gripping and revelatory exposé of a team of park rangers who risk their lives to protect the Virunga National Park, home to the Mountain Gorilla. Mountain Gorillas are an endangered species, with less than 700 remaining on Earth, and have become a member of the family for many Congolese rangers. This documentary tells of the armed rebels, poachers, and corporations that threaten to destroy the home that Congolese people have worked so hard to build.
Film Cinema Movement leader, Lindsay Anderson was quoted in Dave Saunders’ text Documentary saying “No film can be too personal. The image speaks. Sound amplifies and comments. Size is irrelevant. Perfection is not an aim. An attitude is means a style. A style means an attitude.” This perfectly exemplifies the filming techniques used in Virunga.
The film combines both investigative journalism and nature documentary to influence action against the conflict caused by the M23 rebels and the company SOCO International.
Virunga has a powerful start as we watch the funeral of a ranger who “died trying to rebuild his country.” The shaky cam displays live footage of the local men and women trailing behind the casket, all singing in mourning. Later on, a similar funeral is held for a dead gorilla and you can see the strong bond these people have with the wildlife that surrounds them. The images of these brightly dressed people carrying a gorilla to its grave, combined with the sound of their rhythmic voices, creates a feeling that cannot be replicated.
The relationship portrayed between human and gorilla is incredible to watch as they truly merge into one another’s lifestyles. Beyond an emotional connection to the animals, the rangers have practical reasons for protecting the gorillas as well. The park is a good location to work in the Congo. The rangers take pride in what they do and create a safe space for their families and gorillas to live. If there is nothing to protect, the men must join the army with stricter conditions and a higher likelihood of death. Tourism also brings in sufficient funds, so if their land is destroyed, they lose those funds.
Contrasting the footage of life in Virgunda, French journalist Mélanie Gouby, conducts interviews with SOCO and M23 leaders. Using a hidden cam under her shirt, Gouby exposes raw footage of company leaders, providing insight into what these groups plan to do and how they think. I have to say, seeing the SOCO operations manager, Julien Lechenault’s lack of empathy towards the destruction of the park, actually made me angry. As Lechenault sips his beer and nods his head to “Hotel California,” you’d think he was discussing sports, not making plans to declare war.
SOCO wants to drill for oil in the Congo, but more than half of the oil concession is in the national park. While the park rangers have argued against this exploitation, SOCO has teamed with the M23 rebel group to invade the area. These two groups plan to kill thousands of people and animals, just so they can make money.
The film draws to a close as the M23 invade the towns surrounding the park, threatening the lives of the filmmakers and the film participants. Over 60,000 people fled the area, leaving only the Virunga National Park Rangers to remain. Their commitment and bravery shines through as they accept their ill-fated future. Despite all that has happened, their wish is that the park lives forever.
If you’d like to learn more about the film or help the cause, please visit http://virungamovie.com.