Recently, I had the privilege of attending a screening of the documentary Virunga. This film brings to light some of the issues surrounding the current prospection for oil deep within Virunga National Park, the Democratic Republic of Congo's (and Africa's) oldest national park. The story that unfolds is both thought-provoking and worrying.
The tense moments were balanced with smooth transitions to scenes of Virunga's landscapes and thriving, charismatic wildlife. The aerial scenes, covering vast swaths of verdant forests, and moments of cheeky glances from mountain gorillas helped to ease the serious tone of the film. Caregiving and stewardship are two core themes, and the story of André Bauma and the Senkwekwe Gorilla Rehabilitation Center is particularly heartwarming.
At the end of the film, these themes seem to unravel, and I am sure that is the point. Everything becomes uncertain when the M23 rebels inch closer to the park boundaries. Any threat to tourism or natural resources could have terrible consequences for not only the characters the movie follows, but hundreds of thousands of others who call this landscape home (including some 800 mountain gorillas).
Like the scenes of ominous, bubbling of lava inside the park's active volcano, the film seems to sadly foreshadow the recent the shooting of the Belgian director of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, just a few weeks ago. He is currently recovering in a hospital in Nairobi and has plans to return to Virunga.
You don't have to be an animal lover or Africa buff to understand what is going on in this movie. It's the thrilling account of those who dedicate their lives to the protection of a unique and fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you have the opportunity, go and see it. For more information on this park, have a look at the websites of: AWF, IGCP, WWF, and Virunga National Park.