The following post was written by Woodlore’s founder, Ray Mears. You can now watch Virunga online, via Netflix.
This week I was privileged to attend the London premiere of a new feature-length documentary. Surrounded by a packed house, the Curzon cinema on the Kings Road was the venue for what can best be described as a phenomenon. I sat enthralled as the audience around me laughed, gasped and cried; two ladies beside me were so moved that they sobbed uncontrollably in floods of tears. At the end of the screening the titles rolled to cheers and rapturous applause. The film is Virunga.
“It is a true story; a story happening now; a story that all who care about nature should take an interest in. I urge you to watch it.”
Virunga reveals the shocking events currently taking place in the eastern Congo that threaten the jewel of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s natural history, Virunga National Park. Amongst other rare wildlife, this UNESCO world heritage park is home to critically endangered mountain gorillas, whose fate is also a part of the Virunga story. From personal experience I know that the Democratic Republic of Congo is a beautiful region of our planet, a vestige of an older Africa, home to an astonishing range of wildlife and very brave, enduring people.
This remarkable film documents the extraordinary courage and selflessness of a small group of men and women fighting to protect Virunga National Park from illegal oil extraction. They have drawn a line in the sand with Virunga, but they will need support if they are ultimately to succeed. In the film we follow the rangers who risk their lives daily in defence of their park, and who see in its survival an essential step towards a better future for their country. Bravery is a hollow word to describe their astonishing commitment, as they don their uniforms to stand in opposition to the many threats to the park and their own personal safety from rebels, poachers, and a British oil company .
“This revealing documentary peels away the façade of a dirty industry, to show just how an oil company goes about its dirty trade.”
We meet the loathsome accomplices and see clearly how the people of the DRC are disrespected and how the stability of their country is corrupted. It is obvious that the mountain gorillas are only a thorn in the side of those who covet the oil of the Virungas. Sadly, many of our own species have too small an intellect and too great a greed.
Virunga is also a refreshing challenge to the bland, coffee table, wildlife documentaries that have proliferated in the last decade. It shows that issues are important to the viewing audience, who increasingly want to be involved, to make a difference and to have their voices heard. After the screening the key players in this story mounted the stage to answer questions; they were greeted by heartfelt standing ovations. I wish you could have been there – the atmosphere was electric.
“But we must realise that Virunga and what it reveals is but one small campaign in a far larger war.”
Worldwide illegal poaching and exploitation of natural resources is one of the greatest threats to wildlife; wildlife that increasingly is demonstrably essential to the well-being and balance of whole ecosystems; ecosystems that ultimately we ourselves depend upon. If we ignore these issues they will come to haunt our futures and the futures of our children.
As one of the rangers says, “You must justify why you are on this earth!”
– Ray Mears, 2014