Documentary filmmaking is a powerful medium that can be used to raise awareness about social issues. Films as such are able to empower groups to spark social change. Social impact can be a major factor of what makes a documentary successful, and not just at the box office, but in terms of enlightening audiences about social issues. Personally, I find certain documentaries enlightening. I’ll spend hours reading about them afterwards, signing petitions, sharing on social media and encouraging friends to watch them.
Virunga is one such documentary, and one that exists as a microcosm of the inherent depravity of our current socio-economic platform. Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, Virunga is about the battle to protect a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga National Park, a 3000 square-mile paradise, is home to the last remaining mountain gorillas (whose population is currently around 800) and the region’s best hope for economic stability.
The documentary follows a team of park rangers that includes a former child soldier, a caretaker for orphan gorillas, French war journalist, Melanie Gouby, and Belgian conservationist, Emmanuel de Merode, (who was shot in an assassination attempt the day before the film’s debut). Being a park ranger is a dangerous job; 130 have been killed doing their duty, but local people are devout to protect the park, which exists as a prime source of tourism. The group fights to save the UNESCO world heritage site from all kinds of profiteers: rebels, militaries, and poachers, who massacre elephants for their tusks and kill adult gorillas so they can sell their offspring.
Though drilling at the Virunga National Park is illegal, British energy corporation SOCO has been granted a concession by the DRC government to exploit the area for oil. The film is keen to highlight corruption and bribery from a sting operation done by French journalist, Melanie Gouby, where she reveals SOCO contractors bribing park rangers to abandon their duties.
The enormous money at stake also attracts the interest of the rebel group M23, whose leaders make the park as a warzone to take a slice of any mining operation’s profits while driving thousands of already impoverished people into homelessness.
As a piece of activism, Virunga is a must watch, eye-opening documentary, showcasing a ruthless corporation threatening to destroy a beautiful region of the world in its petty search for oil.