Today at the Edinburgh International Film Festival I attended a Q and A session with the makers of Virunga the movie (you can read my review of this must-see film here.) .
Orlando von Einsiedel, the director of the film talked about how he had read in a newspaper about the bravery and dedication of the rangers in Virunga National Park , a World Heritage Site and that gave him the idea to make the film, which originally was intended to be a fairly straight forward 'good news' film about the Congo.
After about four weeks there was a new army rebellion in Congo (breaking the relative peace of the years 2008 - 2012) and at about the same time von Einsiedel found about the British oil company SOCO prospecting for oil in the park. So suddenly the film became much more complicated....
Originally employees of the national park were trained to do undercover filming to find out about what was happening inside SOCO. (Rodrigue the ranger who featured in the film is currently studying elsewhere in Africa, having left Congo for his own safety. He intends to return to Virunga after his studies to be an even more effective ranger). Six months into filming, con Einsiedel met Melanie Gonby a french jouirnalist, who had just finished a contract teaching radio skills to Congolese women and who agreed to come on board with his project.
The result is a powerful and beautiful film that underlines the importance of the World Heritage Site system as protecting the most special places on earth so that they remain for future generations.
More information on SOCO
In 2010 SOCO was sold its concession to prospect for oil in an area of Congo that included Virunga National Park. 54% of the concession lies outside the National Park, but despite it being illegal (both in Congolese and international law) to prospect for oil in the national park, SOCO put all their energies into exploring inside the park boundaries. Given that it's illegal to explore for oil in the park, it begs the question of why Virunga wasn't expressly removed from the concession.....
SOCO recently stated they would pull out of the national park and not explore for oil in World Heritage Sites. However, this isn't the victory it might seem as SOCO have in fact asked Congo to redefine the boundaries of the national park. They need to be pushed into guaranteeing that they will never explore for oil in the area that is currently defined as the World Heritage Site.
The film makers hope that the film will, as part of a larger campaign, persuade SOCO to pull out of Virunga entirely.
SOCO could of course sell their concession to another oil company, but Melanie said in discussion that there seems to be no evidence that any other oil company would be interested in buying it, given the current controversy and the civil unrest in Congo.
Von Einseidel pointed out that whereas oil exploration can fuel civil conflict, Virunga National Park could bring money and harmony into the region through sustainable tourism. Gorilla tourism in neighbouring Rwanda for example brings $1.5billion dollars into the economy every year.
How you can help
If you have investments or a pension, you might want to check out whether any of your funds are invested in SOCO and if so, then you could pressure your fund managers to disinvest from the company.
You can find out more about how to help by visiting the Virunga movie website.
Virunga is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2030, 26 June in Cineworld.
It is expected to be released into cinemas across the UK in late September.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can learn more.