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Virunga is a documentary written and directed by Orlando von Einsiedel about the Virunga National Park in Congo and the struggles of its Rangers to maintain and protect the wildlife there. Virunga has the only remaining habitat for Mountain Gorillas  in the world, and has an orphanage for baby gorillas rescued from poachers who have killed their parents in order to sell the babies. But poachers are only one of the serious problems these dedicated rangers have to face. SOCO, a British oil company is drilling on park land in violation of Congolese law and is actively working to undermine the park. Civil war has broken out causing a terribly unstable environment and it is believed that SOCO is behind the rebel M23 group. This documentary follows a Belgian conservationist who is the warden of Virunga National Park who received death threats and survived an assassination attempt. It also follows a park ranger who was a former child soldier, and a brave young female journalist investigating SOCO who gets SOCO employees on hidden camera to admit to bribery of officials to undermine the park. They also regurgitate those old racist chestnuts that the people of Congo are not “mature” enough to govern themselves, that they are really like children and they are doing them a favor by trying to take over. This favor includes bloody battles that displace tens of thousands, maiming and injuring hundreds of civilians, most of them children. This is not an easy movie to watch. The young gorillas in the orphanage, clinging to their caretakers in fear as shelling goes on nearby, tiny children in makeshift hospitals recovering from traumatic amputations, and the funerals of park rangers killed trying to protect the park (over 130 have died to date) are heartbreaking to watch. I was in tears more than once. But also watching the press conferences by old, white, rich men from SOCO proclaiming they love the environment and follow the law to the letter and would never harm the animals or people made me nauseous. I truly wonder at the ability of people like that to live with themselves. All that said, the obvious love between the orphaned gorillas and their caretakers, the relief of the rangers when they can finally get to the mountain gorilla habitat after the fighting and find that the gorillas are ok, and the resilience of the people of Congo are wonderful to see. Documentaries like this are so important because only by bringing to light the practices of greedy multi-national corporations will enough people stand up to stop their destruction of our planet in order to maintain their greed. At the end of the documentary, there is a statement by SOCO that says in part that they follow the law, they would never harm the mountain gorillas, they had nothing to do with arming and paying the M23 rebels, the employees caught on tape were rogues and were terminated and their employees were not on site during fighting in any kind of “official” capacity. If you believe any of that, I have some swamp land on the moon I’d like to sell you. Virunga is available to watch on Netflix and I highly recommend it. You can also find out more information about the movie at virungamovie.com.

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