“Visually striking and ultimately stirring, Virunga makes a compelling case for the conservation of its titular subject.”
by Ken B.
The country is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the place within it is Virunga National Park. It is, among other things, where some of the world’s last known mountain gorillas live, and are looked after. In November 2012, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority reported that only 880 of these animals are left in the world. As you can imagine, their safety and longevity is of paramount importance. The problem is that Virunga National Park is very much under threat, by poachers, wartime conflicts, oil companies (the British group SOCO International in particular), and many more concerns. Orlando von Einsiedel’s startling documentary Virunga follows a handful of people, from different backgrounds and in different positions, as they work to save the park and its contents from exterior and interior dangers. Visually striking and ultimately stirring, Virunga makes a compelling case for the conservation of its titular subject.
Von Einsiedel has done a good job in crafting a strongly mounted piece of filmmaking, following these people; a French journalist named Mélanie Gouby and park employees André Bauma, Emmanuel de Merode (head ranger), and Rodrigue Katembo, each approaching a common goal of conservation, viewed through their unique perspectives and attempting to achieve it through different methods and angles. While the 98 minute documentary feels uneven and a bit slow to start, there are times where it’s tightly packed and focused, structured like a strong action piece, from crisp and breathtaking overhead shots of the landscape to grainy hidden camera footage which all too easily reveals the corruption of those who wish to infringe on the park.
Virunga ultimately has an emotional heart beneath its sleek, activist center. Every now and then, von Einsiedel returns to the gorillas themselves, and in the midst of the grand scale of events transpiring around them, we are reminded of what’s being fought for. A development late in the film hits home especially hard, followed by title cards which show that the defense of Virunga National Park will go on, despite the fierce and potentially lethal opposition that faces those who work in its honor. This affirming message completes Virunga’s sweeping and wrenching overview, an important issue brought to light in an entertaining and indelible way.