Conservation as Documentary: ‘Virunga’

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When I told three different friends that I’d seen Orlando van Einsiedel’s documentary, ‘Virunga’, their reactions were similar. They knew the film was about a park where gorillas live, but they didn’t know where in Africa the film was made or what the situation was in that country. I was with them before I saw the film. I knew that the Democratic Republic of Congo was experiencing severe political strife, large numbers of people were permanently displaced, and that any infrastructure that existed was suffering- claimed by rebels and unsavory politicians, but I didn’t know what the Virunga National Park meant to that structure, the hope of peace in a land where blood was being spilt in what is actually an ongoing civil war.

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In van Einsiedel’s documentary, the continued existence of Virunga, with it’s extraordinarily diverse fauna and flora, it’s lush depths and the history and identity it holds for not only the DRC, but the plenty of the African continent, is positioned rightfully as the countries only hope for recovery, when it does find political peace and economic stability. Virunga is the oldest national park in the whole of Africa. The rangers who defend the park defend the national honor against rebels forces that seek to exploit the thriving landscape and its inhabitants. The workers consider the creatures in the park their fellows, family. They see no reason to separate themselves from the gorillas and they defend them with their lives.

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This powerful connection between beings and land and the humans who protect and nurture it is the core of the film. The political angle is an image of corruption that pushes out the humanity of the ranger’s systems of nurturing and defense. It is a battle between those who live in and around Virunga and those who know of its riches and invade, steal, and then deny it.

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‘Virunga’ has a purpose, like its namesake territory: the film was made to introduce the state of the DRC, to explore what the land truly has to offer, and to show that because the nation has been ignored, it has been quietly brutalized from inside and from out by corporate thieves. The film bravely charters awareness of a nation, its beauty and the hope of its people while pointing the right finger at those who have stolen without consequence for decades. This is a documentary I can clap for.

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