Virunga (2014) Poster

(2014)

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8/10
A dramatic and compelling documentary about a national park, the pursuit of oil, civil war and the last wild mountain gorillas
Red-Barracuda25 June 2014
Virunga National Park in the Congo is a place of unique natural beauty. It is the home to a plethora of wonderful animals and vegetation but as is so often the way, it has several serious problems that threaten it. It's the location of human violence, corruption and exploitation. The disasters that specifically loom are two different groups, the M23 and SOCO International. The former are a violent rebel force who engages in an ongoing civil war with the Congolese government and the latter are a British energy company who specialise in oil exploration. Both M23 and SOCO invade the park in their own ways and neither seems very interested in the laws that have been set up to protect the flora and fauna that exist there, far less the people who live there. It seems hardly surprising in the case of M23, as they are a paramilitary organisation who can hardly be expected to be concerned with such things but it is the more legitimate big business SOCO who seem more worrying if anything. We discover in fact that they have been involved in a bribery campaign, utilising M23 as enforcers. It's a very murky situation where big money walks all over an impoverished nation and disregards a natural space that they can see no value in in their pursuit of financial profit.

The symbol of the park in many ways is the mountain gorillas. Virunga is the last place on earth where they live freely in the wild and they are a protected species. This, of course, doesn't stop poachers killing parent apes and forcibly kidnapping the young for sale. Nor does it stop enemies of the park from simply killing these magnificent animals in an attempt to destroy the very thing that they see the park being protected for, in an attempt to make Virunga a place devoid of a reason to be protected in the first place. It's a horribly cynical situation. The documentary often almost plays out like a movie in its drama. We often hear about people working hard to save the environment but in Virunga we witness people literally putting their lives on the line fighting for this issue. This is the front line for environmentalists, a bloody warzone where it's pretty obvious who the good guys are. Over the course of the last fifteen years, 130 park rangers have been killed protecting Virunga. It's not far off one death a month and it shows the extreme dedication of these brave folks.

The film focuses chiefly on four such brave souls. There is Emmanuel de Merode, a Belgian warden who runs the park and dedicates himself to its protection. He was shot by gunmen two days after handing in a dossier of evidence against SOCO. Thankfully he survived and went straight back to work. We also have Rodrigue, one of Emmanuel's park rangers, who puts himself in the firing line on a daily basis. He also goes undercover for the film in order to expose bribery tactics. Likewise, Melanie, a French freelance journalist, also goes undercover to expose the views of the SOCO people involved in the enterprise. And lastly there is Andre, the guardian of four young gorillas, orphaned by the poachers. His dedication to the animals is touching and he is, to all intents and purposes, their parent. He links us back into the gorillas and the very essence of Virunga itself.

This is a very strong documentary about an issue that is not so well known. It avoids preachiness and simply shows us things. Director Orlando von Einsiedel has to be given a lot of credit for how he handles the material and presents it in an engaging way, while making a very serious point. Unsurprisingly, there is much gritty, on-the-fly footage but it is also combined with beautifully composed images of the park. The cinematography at times is actually quite stunning. It makes sense to have adopted this approach, as this is a film that is about grim exploitation but also one about something very beautiful too.
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10/10
Beautiful and hard-hitting documentary about the battle to save Africa's oldest National Park
ek-norton17 October 2014
Virunga is a stunning film, part nature documentary, and part gritty exposé of the realities of life on the ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has been torn apart by conflict for thirty years.

Director Orlando von Einsiedel does an incredible job at telling a complex story - documenting the beauty and remarkable vitality of Virunga National Park, alongside a developing story of corruption and greed, as it is revealed that a British oil company, Soco International, has been exploring for oil with the park's boundaries.

The film features remarkable characters, from the gentle and fatherly gorilla carer Andre Bauma, through to the fearless French journalist Melanie Gouby, alongside the remarkable rangers who put their lives on to protect Congo's natural heritage.

To make this film even more engaging, the issues at its heart are still very much relevant, and even though oil company Soco agreed in June 2014 to halt exploration the park, the fight is still not over. I urge you to watch this film, and educate yourself on its surrounding campaign. This is not a story which should be forgotten.
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10/10
Great Documentary highlighting an important cause
ThomasJeff21 November 2014
The documentary does a great job of telling the various stories and building up suspense while showing us the beauty of the country.

The only historical "inaccuracy" was that they didn't flat out say that King Leopold of Belgium literally committed genocide in the Free Congo State by killing 10-30 million people for his own personal financial gains. It was in fact the first genocide of the 20th century. I wouldn't say it was corporations, King of Belgium is a government not a corporation.

Other than that everything about the movie was great. It had great emotions and the characters showed a lot of character.

The absurdity of the corporations attempt to try to get oil by damaging environmental or animal conservation efforts is ridiculous. They can just as easily provide for the animals and their habitat and it would not cost much.
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10/10
Compulsory education
Rudy Engels11 January 2015
I saw this movie at the Docville festival in Leuven, Belgium. This a film festival with just documentaries. I had to choose between several movies and I'll never going to regret one second the choice I've made. I saw the mountain gorillas myself at Bwindi in Uganda so maybe my reaction is a little bit biased... The film is more than just a film about those magnificent animals. It's about how "we" cope with our resources but even more importantly how other people (e.g. the rangers) even give their lives to protect this. I wept during the film out of frustration but also out of an enormous respect for the film makers, rangers and everyone involved. I've had the chance to speak with Orlando von Einsiedel afterwards and it's one of the conversations that will stay with me forever. It's one of those movies that should be compulsory at school education, ... and a movie everyone should have in their collection!
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10/10
People being bad at being human.
Abbie Marisum14 February 2015
"You must justify why you are on this earth. Gorillas justify why I am here. They are my life." - André Bauma, Virunga National Park

In a world where everyone at some point have been selfish or had an act of narcissistic behavior, how many people can say that?

I think everyone should know about it. It showed me selflessness, love that is unconditional despite the race, evil and goodness.

I think a movie is good if it creates a sense of doing, acting. A film which makes you want to do something beyond the movie seats, create a reality out of entertainment.

People say that is how a film touches one's soul, I say that is how a film creates reality for us. Not everyone has the same privileges we were born with, the same freedom or right. We all came to earth the same way but it does not mean we are able to have the same peace.

A film can show us exactly how we are more and how we can help, and this film did just that. It makes you think of what other ways to help.

I think everyone should watch it to get to reality, get a realization. A realization that maybe not all men are equal, but all beings are equal.
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9/10
Pro-conservation park rangers battle an oil company and warring political factions in this excellent, disturbing documentary
Turfseer1 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Director Orlando von Einsiedel initially chose to make a documentary about the valiant efforts of park rangers in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo to conserve natural resources. Their work mainly focused on caring for mountain gorillas, four of which were the only such animals held in captivity in the entire world. When hostilities broke out between government forces and the M23 rebel group and a British mining company entered the park to drill for oil, Einsiedel broadened the scope of his documentary, transforming it into a feature-like, suspenseful thriller.

One of the heroes of the film is André Bauma, the man in charge of caring for the four gorillas that survived a 2007 gorilla massacre at the hands of poachers, who would kill gorilla parents and kidnap gorilla children, with the intent of selling them for profit. Bauma is shown caring for the gorillas, and they are seen reciprocating the love he extends to them. The saddest moment in the film is when one of the gorillas dies in its cage, perhaps due to the civil war raging outside.

Other good guys include Emmanuel de Merode, the chief warden, who is the only foreign national to have been appointed to a government position with judicial powers in the Congo (de Merode is legally a prince in the Belgian nobility). Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, the head park ranger, is another enlightened soul who ends up threatened (and later beaten) by anti-conservation elements.

SOCO, a British mining company, soon becomes a new antagonist to those seeking to keep Virunga pristine. SOCO is given permission by the Congolese government to see if there's oil in Virunga National Park. A French investigative journalist, Mélanie Gouby, goes undercover and videotapes SOCO contractors bragging that they've made deals with the government as well representatives of the M23 rebel group. At the end of the documentary, the two contractors, according to SOCO, were fired by the company, after they made demeaning comments about Africans and their ability to govern themselves, on Gouby's video.

The last third of Virguna is perhaps the most disturbing. Here we see the effect of the rebel offensive on the local Congolese population. Children, in particular, are seen being cared for in a local hospital, after indiscriminate shelling maims many of them. A shantytown that housed thousands of refugees already displaced is seen deserted, after the encroachment of the rebels.

We're informed that the M23 rebel movement is a result of the civil war in Rwanda dating back to 1994. I would have liked to have known more as to what motivated them to take up arms against the Congolese government. At the end of the documentary, the M23 forces are very close to the Virunga National Park's position. It's not entirely clear what prevents M23 from taking over the park but it appears that reinforcements arrived to prevent the rebel group from assuming control.

While it's admirable that the filmmakers allowed SOCO their side of the story which appeared in the end credits, I would have appreciated a little more about how the oil company would have damaged conservation efforts in the park. One assumes they would, but explaining "how," would have made the film's argument against the company, that much more persuasive.

"Virunga" has all the elements of a fascinating documentary. It melds the valiant efforts of pro-conservationists who are opposed by powerful competing interests including a large oil company as well as political actors on both sides of warring factions. The intent of the filmmakers is to educate what's going on in a part of the world, that the average westerner is not familiar with.
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10/10
What amazing lengths the filmmakers went to bring us this story.
MartinHafer2 February 2015
Often, films nominated for the Best Full-Length Documentary Oscar are exceptionally brave films where the filmmakers went to insane lengths to tell important stories. Last year, one film was made in the midst of a revolution and the filmmakers could have easily been killed filming the democracy movement. Another film featured the filmmakers confronting folks who'd committed genocide decades ago and actually got them to talk about their hideous crimes. This year, one such brave nominated documentary is "Virunga"--and once again, the folks who made this movie could have easily gotten killed to bring us this important story.

"Virunga" is set at a national park by this same name. It's in the Democratic Republic of Congo--a nation which was known as Zaire until recently. The park is important because it's the last habitat of the Mountain Gorilla--and there are only about 700-800 left in the wild and these creatures have just about been wiped out in recent years in nearby Rwanda. Many folks in this film truly love the animals and have dedicated their lives to protecting them. Much of the footage of these folks is quite touching. Unfortunately, the park is also in a country that's been torn apart by civil wars--a series of wars in which over 5,000,000 people have died! But it gets worse...it looks as if there are oil reserves in the park and some outside interests seem willing to do almost anything to get their hands on these oil reserves. According to the film, a company named SOCO is fueling the civil war and encourages the killing off of the gorillas. That's because some think if these gorillas could be wiped out once and for all, then there is no reason to keep this region as a national park and the oil riches could be tapped. As a result, 130 of the park's rangers have been murdered trying to protect these beautiful creatures.

The story is quite compelling but what really impressed me is how far the filmmakers went to get the story. They not only filmed the park and its rangers but filmed some very dangerous stuff as well. Various hidden camera interviews were made which confirm that many of the people working for SOCO are offering bribes and exerting pressure by bringing in mercenaries. While this British company may not be behind these actions, the film clearly shows its employees engaging in some evil and exploitive behaviors. Additionally, when the war came to the outskirts of the park, the filmmakers showed some of the action--and placing themselves in a very dangerous situation.

The bottom line is that the film is very well made and shows an amazing willingness to go as far as they need to in order to get the story out to the rest of the world. Few outside the region realize just how bad life has become there or how dire the plight is for the gorillas. Because this is the filmmakers' aim, their website is chock full of information as well as suggestions as to what you can do to help.

By the way, don't assume this problem of poaching and habitat destruction is limited to the Congo. A few months ago, I was in South Africa and it's one of the richer and more politically stable nations on the continent. While on a photo safari, I stood only inches away from the carcass of a dead rhino--killed by poachers because of some insane notion that rhino horn bestows virility on people using it in folk medicines! What a waste...

UPDATE: This film lost to "Citizen Four". I have no idea if this was a good or not, as I haven't yet seen this winning film.
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8/10
The Congo
gavin694219 January 2015
A group of brave individuals risk their lives to save the last of the world's mountain gorillas; in the midst of renewed civil war and a scramble for Congo's natural resources.

We start with a broad overview of Congo history, and how outsiders helped ruined it. Unfortunately, as we soon find out, this is not just ancient history. We also see a British oil company's disregard for a World Heritage Site, and the human-gorilla interaction of those pledged to save it.

Sheri Linden described Virunga as an "urgent investigative report and unforgettable drama... a work of heart-wrenching tenderness and heart-stopping suspense". Beautifully put, Ms. Linden. Few people know much about the Congo, and this should open their eyes to how the people (and animals) are still being affected by colonization today.
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8/10
An upsetting and exciting documentary with marked contrasts
estebangonzalez107 April 2015
"Consider this: Only 880 Mountain Gorillas Remain in the World."

Orlando von Einsiedel, a former professional snowboarder, began making short documentaries in 2010 skating through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He then continued working in Africa directing several shorts across the continent, and that is when a photograph of a group of rangers at Virunga National Park caught his attention. The story was far too compelling for a short, so he decided to direct his first feature documentary centering on the current situation in Congo. The Park rangers are completely committed to protecting the wild life where the world's remaining Mountain Gorillas live, but as in most of the African continent the unstable government situation has made their survival difficult. With rebel groups trying to fund their armies, the rich minerals present in the park are their means to it. But these dangerous rebel groups aren't the only enemy that the rangers face. SOCO, a British gas company, was given permission by the Congolese government to explore the territory for oil reserves. The contradiction is that Virunga is a protected park due to the endangered species living their. Through a series of interesting investigative work, a reporter named Melanie Gouby manages to befriend SOCO employees and discovers a link between them and the rebel groups. She also exposes the corruption behind some of the officials. What results is a fascinating documentary that gets more and more exciting as the story develops.

What Virunga does best is combine astonishing shots of the beautiful landscape of the park with the chaos that the country has been experiencing due to the rebel groups and corrupt government officials. The innocence of the baby gorillas playing with some of the rangers who are willing to sacrifice their lives for these animals is juxtaposed with the racial and distasteful comments of some of the employees trying to exploit the park. If this were a feature film, I'd say the villains were stereotypically played because their comments and actions are simply cringeworthy. But this is the real deal and it is a shame that these people think this way. Our lack of humanity is brilliantly portrayed and it easily contradicts the beauty of the park. While rebel groups create chaos and shoot innocent kids, gorilla caretakers like André Bauma are willing to risk their lives for the gorillas. In a touching scene he says "You must justify why you are on this Earth. Gorillas justify why I am here. They are my life." This takes place as the rebel groups close in on the park spreading fear through gunshots and explosions. So we get both sides of humanity in this touching documentary and that contradiction is what makes this such an exciting and upsetting film at the same time.

Being in the line of fire probably wasn't easy for von Einsiedel, but his bravery pays off because he has managed to direct a fascinating documentary which received a nomination at this year's Academy Awards. The way he allows his camera to capture the beauty of the park reminds us of what a great tourist attraction this place could be if it weren't for the danger that lurks in the area. The reason it hasn't become one of the world's main attractions is because of the constant war and instability of the region, but if there could be some way of reaching peace I'm sure their could be much more wealth found in tourism than in the minerals everyone's trying to exploit there. Virunga reminded me a lot of the universal theme found in films like Avatar dealing with corporate greed and corruption versus the beauty of nature and how our greed is destroying it. Virunga is a compelling watch and a documentary you won't regret experiencing.

http://estebueno10.blogspot.com/
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10/10
Amazing accomplishment
adsitm21 February 2015
This salient ant-war, anti-business exploration, pro-conservation documentary touched me and made me feel something special. It effortlessly brings us in and causes us to care for the workers of this national park and their deep mission to preserve it at all costs. And it also makes it indisputable that what they are doing is right for such a beautiful park. War is a terrible thing when in the face of such majesty. This movie is gorgeously shot and wonderfully paced.

It becomes obvious how right the mission of the main characters in the movie is. Everyone so bravely fights for this park and does whatever they can to expose corrupt business and government officials who seek to undermine it for their own benefit. The terrible consequences of war in this often unstable region on thousands of citizens is also unflinchingly portrayed. Finally, you get an intimate portrayal of the gorillas our protagonists so bravely protect with their lives, if need be. It was simply amazing, which makes this film a must see.
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10/10
Compulsory viewing
eddie_baggins16 June 2015
An immensely moving and thought provoking documentary about a subject that I would understand not many know about, Oscar nominated, Leonardo DiCaprio produced Virunga is a must see film for not only fans of documentary films but the general public and is an incredible examination of the human spirit and those dedicated to making the world a better place.

England based filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel holds back no punches in this Netflix backed looked at the Virunga National Park deep in the wilds of the Congo and the many battles it faces from illegal animal poachers, greedy oil company's and a country with a long and sad history of violent civil wars. Einsiedel and his team of cameraman over a period of years nestled in deep with the men and women dedicated to the cause of preserving this majestic park range and the many animals it harbors, including the dangerously low in numbers Mountain Gorillas, and the film we the viewer get to witness offers us an up close and personal look at wide variety of situations, many of which were clearly dangerous for those on the ground.

The landscape surrounding the naturally beautiful space of Virunga is fraught with danger and as Einsiedel's film progresses an appreciation for what troubles plaguing this region become more and more apparent, and the people who operate within these confines become more and more heroic. The humans are the stars here in Einsiedel's tale, from gorilla orphan caretaker Andre Bauma, Belgium prince Emmanuel de Merode operating as the park ranger leader, young reporter Melanie Gouby and one time soldier turned ranger Rodrigue Katembo, Einsiedel captures not only stunningly magnificent scenery and animal footage, but documents of incredible human beings, the type that in amongst a wealth of evil, corrupt cohabitants, shine a light on the good that can be achieved with a kind and loving heart.

Virunga is a gut punch of movie, whether it be its documents of civil war, the sadness of animal poaching or the stand out examples of the human spirit, there's a wealth of material here that makes this film one of the year's best. Fantastically captured by Einsiedel and his team, Virunga is also one of the year's most visually unique and whilst it may not be easy viewing, Virunga remains compulsory viewing for anyone and everyone that cares for the world we live in today.

5 cans of Pringles out of 5
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5/10
Beautiful and brave film spoilt by historical inaccuracies
annepeter29 June 2014
The film was shot by a very brave group of people in what is a dangerous area. The pictures of the Park are beautiful and the those of the gorillas are captivating. I lived in DRC for five years, but mainly stuck to Kinshasa.

I was surprised by the historical inaccuracies in the initial background:

  • the film states that other countries in Africa were run by European Governments, but that Congo was the only one run by companies. This is not correct. King Leopold convinced the other European Powers to grant him the Congo which he would 'run for the benefit of its people'. In fact he ran it entirely for his own financial benefit and this probably resulted in the death of 10 million Congolese (see 'King Leopold's Ghost' by Adam Hochschild).


  • the film goes on to state that Patrice Lumumba, Congo's democratically elected Prime Minister at Independence was killed by mining companies. This is also not true. Patrice Lumumba made himself unpopular with the Belgian Govt with his speech at the Independence ceremony. He made himself unpopular with the American Govt with his approach to the Soviet Union for assistance.


The CIA was briefed to arrange his death (see 'Chief of Station, Congo' by Larry Devlin) and the Chief of Station (i.e. the head of CIA, Congo) was bizarrely provided with poisonous toothpaste to be introduced into Lumumba's bathroom - but this was not deployed.

The Belgian Govt took a direct role in Lumumba's murder with the Belgian Police Commissioner Frans Verscheure directing the firing squad (see 'The Assassination of Lumumba' by Ludo de Witte).

It was not mining companies that killed Lumumba, it was the Belgian and US Governments.

I can see that the film's makers wanted to present a uniform story where evil mining companies have been responsible for all the ills in Congo's past (and present), but this is not correct and this dishonesty detracts from the film.

The film's makers have downplayed the subsequent (11 June 2014) decision by SOCO to withdraw from the Park and not to return unless 'approved by UNESCO and the DRC Government'. The film makers may not like SOCO, but their undertaking seems pretty clear and categoric. I can't see UNESCO inviting them back in.

And part of the reason for that is the reality gathered and presented by the film. They, together with the campaigning efforts of WWF (likewise undervalued by the filmmakers) should get all due credit for saving this beautiful Park.
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7/10
Imperfect documentary - but please let it help save the land and animals!
Virunga is a well intentioned documentary that will hopefully garner attention for the clashes occurring in the Congo.

The Oscar nominated documentary Virunga explores the conflict for natural resources in the Central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the unintended but deadly consequences for the UNESCO-designated Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site, caught in the middle of the skirmish.

The documentary, directed and written by Orlando von Einsiedel, says Virunga is about the brave individuals that act as an army to protect the Virunga National Park from poachers. In reality, the film not only explores the protection efforts of the mountain gorillas but the harmful effects of civil unrest on the DRC. Along with journalist Melanie Gouby, von Einsiedel's Virunga goes undercover to reveal the negligent motives of British oil company SOCO International.

As a documentary, Virunga is interesting, eye-opening and concerning but not necessarily novel nor especially comprehensive. The information relayed to audiences is not from experts or top players in the controversy of the park, wild life or even political landscape. Instead, most of the information highlighted and showcased are simply from first hand experiences as the civil war reignites and from a few key figures who are employed by the Virunga National Park.

Virunga is well intentioned but ultimately slightly faulted documentary. It is informative, but not substantially so. There are plenty of filler shots of babies crying and the beauty of the African landscape but these scenes add no significance. Virunga ends up feeling like a History Channel or National Geographic special – not a bad thing, but not the same caliber as a feature documentary film.

The lack of hindsight and conclusion of the civil siege in the Democratic Republic of the Congo makes for an unstructured film where it appears that the filmmakers were learning the story as they went – leading to a lack of vision and inability to edit the film into a cohesive non-fiction narrative.

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9/10
Mandatory Viewing
chick fil a11 January 2016
We watch some films for entertainment. We watch some films for an escape from reality. We watch some films for the emotional effect. Finally, we watch some films because we should. Virunga is one such film. It is a documentary that everyone should see.

Virunga follows four people in their quests to preserve Virunga National Park in the face of war and illegal oil exploitation. The Park, aside from its incredible beauty, is renowned for being the last natural habitat for the critically endangered mountain gorillas. The gorillas provide the visual and emotional backbone for the film. The two main threats to the Park include M23, a Democratic Republic of the Congo rebellion group, and SOCO International, a British oil company.

The cinematography in this film is often breathtaking. Wide shots of the beautiful Virunga landscape appear with regularity throughout the film. In addition, there are moments of extreme tension thanks to the use of hand-held and hidden cameras in dangerous situations. The filmmakers succeed in establishing a hard-hitting dichotomy between the "heroes" and "villains." When I say villains, I mean villains in every sense of the word. When you listen to what the SOCO-affiliated people have to say, it often sounds like something straight out of a comic book movie.

The heroes of this film are incredibly relatable due to their various obligations. One character is obligated to telling/exposing the truth. Another character is obligated to the gorillas. Still another character is obligated to the park in general. In seeing these characters discuss why they feel obligations to different things, we as viewers gain a greater understanding of what it means to be a "good human." We have a moral obligation to undo damage that has been done as well as preserve places that have escaped our contamination. Further, we have an obligation to blow the whistle on people who seek to further damage our earth. The film does a great job of emphasizing these points through its characters.

I think it's important to note that the film never comes across as overbearing or "preachy." The filmmakers simply show what happens. The characters and the action do all the talking in terms of the politics and morals of the film. The situations happen organically. Nothing seems staged or contrived.

Finally, I think that it is worth discussing the gorillas. As I mentioned before, I believe that they represent the backbone of the film. The filmmakers often return to the gorillas, showing them interact in an all-too-human manner. The similarity of these animals to humans gives us human viewers a more visceral reason to care about what could potentially happen to Virunga National Park. The gorillas tie back to the central theme of the film. Unfortunately, this could be one of the last films that shows these animals in their natural habitat. It would be a shame to see a species that lies only two branches away from humans on the evolutionary tree go extinct.

Ultimately, I believe that Virunga is mandatory viewing for any audience. You don't have to be an environmentalist, a biologist, or a gorilla enthusiast to appreciate this film. It gives us a greater understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a morally responsible human being in an increasingly irresponsible world.
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10/10
Moving and eye-opening documentary
fesayao5 December 2015
Wow. I am truly speechless. I had postponed watching this documentary several times until I finally took the time to sit down and give it a go. The term "Virunga" did sound familiar, but apart from that, I was oblivious to any plot details of this wonderfully shot, touching and at times surreal account of heroic personages trying to save the last mountain gorillas whilst preserving the environment they inhabit.

It was more than refreshing to see such a well-portrayed polarization of the good and evil visages of human nature, which allows the viewers to distinctly identify with one of the contrasting sides of the tale: not unlike your typical superhero movie, we have the villains and the heroes.

Orlando von Einsiedel does a magnificent job of introducing us to a sensible subject often approached by reputed wildlife organizations on the most superficial of levels. We are taken on a journey which accompanies the workings of a few individuals determined to make a change by fighting a seemingly lost battle against overmighty corporations and corrupt government.

This unique documentary manages to transmit powerful notions of how our unending and reckless ambitions effectively drive many other species to the brink of extinction, which most people apparently don't care about or don't care about enough to do something about it. Fortunately, the movie focuses on the huge impact a tiny group of creative, resolved and motivated conservationists can have, all the while remaining entirely unbiased, a rare feature in today's non-fiction motion picture canon.

My first criterion in judging a movie is whether it provokes any kind of emotional response on my part - in this instance, I felt hope. Hope that we can actually do what we put our minds to and repair some of the damage previously thought irreversible, caused by our incautious and negligent industrial expansion. We share our existence with many creatures on this wonderful planet. Their lives matter too.

Add in shocking undercover footage, fantastic editing and beautiful shots of Africa's landscape and you have got yourself a masterpiece. This is why we make films in the first place. Bravo!!!
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7/10
Good but somewhat naive and misinformed
john_seater9 February 2015
Virunga does a good job of showing the grave difficulties facing conservationists in Africa. Virunga is about a park in the Congo, but the situation is similar in many African countries. War breaks out frequently, violence is commonplace, corruption is rampant. Perhaps even more serious, many people have an economic incentive to plunder the national parks. Many people live in extreme poverty, so poaching wild animals is not merely a good business deal, it may be the difference between starving and surviving. The same is true of exploiting the minerals in the park. Virunga lays out all that in an unflinching way.

Where I fault Virunga is that it somewhat makes a muddle of things, confusing various issues, and it has an unrealistic view of what is going on. An example of the first problem is that Virunga gives the impression that the mineral companies are the root of all evil. They are not. They don't poach elephants, for example. That's a different issue. An example of the second problem is that Virunga gives the impression that the mineral companies are the reason there is corruption. In fact, corruption is rampant throughout Africa and indeed much of the rest of the world (try to get your ferry ticket stamped in Greece without paying the clerk a bribe, for example). If Africa had no minerals, it still would be rife with corruption.

Despite the flaws, Virunga is a very good movie, well worth watching.
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6/10
Too sloppy and sentimental.
Sergeant_Tibbs3 February 2015
Netflix seems to be reliably getting their documentaries nominated for Oscars as of late, and with its intriguing topic Virunga looked like a film with a lot of potential. It starts off great, really passionate and gripping about the injustices in its titular location. Then it moves onto something else, then something else, and more, and it keeps going until the connection between all these things feel all the more tenuous. That's the crux of Virunga, the direction lacks any form of restraint. It has the passion and it is interesting, but it too often opts for the most sentimental choice and it comes off as utterly contrived. All of its excitement feels so perfectly timed and formed that it comes off as orchestrated. To its credit, it is beautifully shot, though it often feels like an extract of Planet Earth rather than having its own identity. Not to belittle its cause, Virunga needed more time in the editing room to feel less cheap and sloppy.

6/10
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3/10
Disappointing and a little uneven with its finger pointing
Paynebyname2 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
So I recently got Netflix and scrolling through the available features, I noticed the Oscar nominated Virunga, a documentary about Gorillas in Congo. I assumed that being nominated for an Oscar would mean that it would be a compelling and absorbing documentary offering something new.

Unfortunately it was none of these. It seemed to be chock full of seen before and stereo typical, tick box African scenes: Impoverished children running along with a tyre and a stick, women carrying huge loads balanced on their head, armed militia with cumbersome rocket launchers walking through the bush, yawning hippos, sweeping aerial shots of lush vegetation, gorillas looking forlornly at the camera and refugees fleeing along never ending roads.

The documentary had very little direction or focus. The guy in charge of the park rangers didn't seem to have much 'presence' about him and the constant assertions that these people were prepared to lay down their lives for the park and the gorillas was all a bit muddled. At one point they are preparing their weapons and supplies for when the rebels roll into town and the next minute, he's saying that when they come, we'll have to leave. Were they prepared to die defending the park/gorillas or simply die alongside them? Were they part of the Congolese army or a privately funded militia? The programme wanted to make out that they were defending the Alamo but he never walked around, and his colleagues never exhibited, an air of heightened battle readiness. Granted it's all about remaining calm but it certainly didn't give the impression of the wild west.

Likewise the whole SOCO 'conspiracy' seemed very forced and under-developed. I couldn't work out why a SOCO employee would be so keen to spill the beans about the company, and later on introduce a mercenary to the female reporter, when he knew that she was a journalist. Did he really think she would keep it off the record? What was his motive for telling her everything? It felt strange that the makers were so keen to paint the company based in one of the former colonial powers as the dreadful bad guys but turned an almost blind eye to the Congolese government that gave SOCO the license to begin the oil exploration. What message are they trying to send? That the evil corporations are the puppet masters for the Congolese government? That the Congolese are too stupid or inept to control their own destiny? Surely if it wasn't SOCO, it would be another oil company that would be offered the concession to look for oil? Why is the dirty thought of profit, the exploitation of a countries resources and the invasion/destruction of the national park only being laid at the door of the western business? Is it that the Congolese government can do no wrong or would singling them out for criticism be a lot more uncomfortable than pinning it all on the pantomime British bad guy? Finally, the documentary was a little confusing in what was actually happening and when. M23 were attacking the area and the Congolese army were pulling out but then the army were taking up defensive positions around the park. Did the park fall into their hands? If so, why were M23 happy for it to remain open and have an independent military force existing within its new sphere of influence? It really was one of those documentaries where you realised about half way through that the only decent summation you were going to get, would be at the very end. Although this revealed some blatant corruption and intimidation against the main park commander, it unsurprisingly was made up of responses just from SOCO. I'm intrigued to know what the official responses from the Congolese government were.

Although the plight of the Gorillas and the National parks is an important one, I do feel that the makers are trading on the importance of the issue rather than fully raising their game and putting together an excellent documentary to promote the cause.
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Sort of all over the place...
Red_Identity16 January 2015
Certainly, there's a lot of moving scenes in this. It's real life, trying to save the wilderness and some part of our world that is alive and in danger. That alone makes it hard to not wring some emotion out of us. But the problem is that the film's focus seems to shift at times. Truthfully, it doesn't in the sense of its themes, but the sort of meandering narrative does feel like it shifts a little too much. The cinematography is beautiful though, that's to be sure of. It has a really dazed sort of tone, one that seems to really make an impact in what it's trying to do and what it's trying to evoke in the audience in terms of their feelings. In that way, it's very much a success, I just wish it had been better
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