Documentaries don’t get rawer than Virunga. This is a real story of corruption, greed, death and determination. Amidst tensions over the country’s oil resources as well as a bloody civil war, we meet a select few, determined to protect Congo’s national park known as Virunga. We also encounter some of the last surviving mountain gorillas and those who care for them; determined to protect the species and their habitat. Virunga interweaves raw documentary footage of conflict and the reality of the state of Congo with secretly filmed footage captured by a young journalist and, finally, an intense cinematic style that highlights the dramatic nature of these real events and makes everything that little bit more theatrical. In a similar way to The Act of Killing, Virunga incorporates theatricality with realism. However, what Virunga manages to accomplish is far more impressive than the highly overrated and controversial The Act of Killing. These are people who risk their lives everyday for the good of the land and the film is dedicated to other such individuals who have sadly lost their lives whilst doing so. We are introduced to a previous child-soldier, a young and ambitious journalist and a number of other characters whose histories gradually become apparent.
The film moves between the civil war and the hunt for oil, both of which have divided the county drastically. Virunga opens with a brief history of the country, helping us to understand the tensions and fears that linger in Congo and amongst its people, today. Most concerning is the corruption that is going on between the oil company employees, the rebels and the park rangers. Bribes are caught on camera and reveal a darker and more sinister layer to the already problematic position of Congo. Documentary cinema has many techniques and traits that we grow accustom to. Sometimes it takes something as bold as Virunga to remind us just how powerful documentary can be and what it can accomplish. This is a film that sheds light on an issue so many will be unfamiliar with. The turbulent history of Congo and its neighbour Rwanda is constantly present in the mind of the viewer. We join this courageous team as they valiantly risk grave danger in order to preserve the gorillas and the land in which they live. We also spend a large amount of time in the presence of the gorillas, getting to know them and discovering their personalities. One of the most charismatic is Koboko, a one armed gorilla whose loving nature comes across on screen. Tension builds, leading to a vicious conflict that has some tragic outcomes. As the film closes we are left with the harrowing truth that this is a fight far from over, one that threatens to become a war.
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