A film that has the premise of a contemporary thriller: there
are soldiers upholding their mission at any cost, there is an attractive young
journalist trying to root out the corruption of a mysterious corporation, and
there are insidious intents of breaking international laws by secret guerillas
not to mention sting operations, hidden cameras, bribes, and murder. Well, it
is not a sequel to Die Hard or Mission: Impossible but it is a
documentary about Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of
Congo.  Virunga is known to be one of the
most bio-diverse places in the world and home to some of the world’s most
prized natural resources—oil and raw minerals used to make consumer
electronics—but it’s also home to fishing villages and some of the last
remaining mountain gorillas on Earth. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and
Africa’s oldest national park with 3000 square miles of forests, savannas, lava
plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of
the Rwenzori mountains.
A long documentary debut, Virunga is directed by the
London-based Orlando von Einsiedel who gained attention for his fearless style
of filmmaking in far-flung locations combined with visually striking
camerawork. After numerous short documentaries set in Africa, Asia, the US and
the Arctic, including the award-winning Skateistan: To Live and Skate in
(2010), about an inspirational skateboarding school in Afghanistan. The
director succeeds to tell complex stories about the forces working to save the
park while others are trying to destroy it by following the likes of gorilla
chief warden a former child soldier who joined the park rangers to protect the
park to his last breath given the fact that 130 rangers have died under fire from
poachers and rebel militias before him. There is also French journalist Mélanie
Gouby who is using hidden cameras to capture the possible links between the
militias and the British oil company SOCO whose representatives get to talk
after a few drinks. In fact, SOCO has won the right to conduct seismic testing
in the search for drillable oil in the park. On the other side, the park’s Chief
Warden Emmanuel de Merode has vowed to keep drilling but he faces death threats
from local rebel groups who have apparently partnered with SOCO — and who now
seem invested in chasing down the park staff who stands up waiting at a shelter
housing gorillas, ready to quite literally defend the last of a species against
the worst of global capitalism. Soco left the national park earlier this year
but its presence since 2007 in the heavily-forested African rift valley has
caused an international storm and has been condemned by Unesco, the UK
government and the naturalist David Attenborough.
Every war in the last 20 years in eastern Congo has started
in or around the Virunga national park. It is the incredibly rich resources in
the park which has attracted the armed groups and which has led to the death of
six million innocent people. Congolese government institutions are vulnerable
after 20 years of civil war.
Virunga premiered last April in Tribeca Festival then made
it Middle East Premiere in Abu Dhabi Film Festival last October while being
played in Netflix. Executive-produced by American star and environmental activist
Leonardo DiCaprio, the film could be a contender in the next Oscars.

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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