Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a World Heritage Site, one of the most biodiverse places on earth and home to one half of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world.
The park was established in 1925 specifically to protect the mountain gorilla population and has since been extended. In the past twenty years it has seen huge challenges including an influx of refugees from the genocide in Rwanda (1994), the murder of a family of gorillas (2007) and since then two civil wars in which twenty of the park's rangers have been killed in their work of protecting the park and the gorillas.
Now there is the new threat of oil exploration. The British oil company SOCO are currently prospecting for oil in Virunga and this forms the centre of Virunga, the movie.
The documentary focuses on the work of several people involved in the park. The rangers are armed and ready to shoot poachers or rebels. Andre, the gorilla keeper, looks after the four orphaned gorillas who are kept in captivity in the park and preparing them for eventual release into the wild. Andre has a wonderfully close relationship with the gorillas and describes them as his second family. Emanuel the park manager oversees operations and has to keep everyone motivated, even in the face of suspected bribes from SOCO to get rangers to turn traitor to the park.
Using undercover cameras the film attempts to spy on Soco employees to find out what their plans are for the park and on local rebel forces who are planning to move into the area.
Things get very tense and it is clear that for SOCO the park is only valuable as a pontential oil field "who cares about a couple of monkeys?" says one of their employees. Meanwhile although the rebels don't trust SOCO, they themselves potentially pose a risk to the wildlife and rangers in the park.
Since the film was made, SOCO has made an agreement to leave the park after completing their seismic studies, but it isn't clear what this commitment really means. UNESCO has made a statement reaffirming the value of World Heritage sites and making it clear that oil exploration isn't allowed in these sites.
But the future remains uncertain for Virunga, this beautiful wild place caught between human conflict and oil reserves. The rangers who protect the park make it very clear in this film that they are prepared to lay down their lives to protect the park and anyone who cares about the world's wild places should stand with them.
Virunga is part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is showing:
18.30, 24 June and 2030, 26 June both in Cineworld.
You can read my previous reviews of the film festival so far by following the links below:
A Dangerous Game.
My Name is Salt.
Legacy, Mistory and Language - a review of N: The Madness of Reason; A House in Berlin and Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?
Ancient Temples, Vertigo and Film-making - a review of Manakamana and La ultima pelicula.
Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film
Festival amd am attending free press screenings of these films.
A reminder that I'm running a blog giveaway to win a pdf of my book Bougainvillea Dancing, poetry, prose and photos inspired by Malawi. Find out more and enter here.
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