“Virunga”: a park, a documentary, a happy ending story

You know the times when engagement, moral integrity and attachment to a cause win on interests that seem invincible, don’t you? This is one of those times.

Virunga is a national park located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and designated as UNESCO World Heritage site. But “Virunga” is also the title of a documentary directed by Orlando von Einsiedel (United Kingdom, 2014), which tells the story of a bloody struggle. On one side, a group of forest rangers tries to preserve the area and its biodiversity, included the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas; on the other side, some oil companies aim to take possession of the land natural resources by taking advantage from the conflicts among local militias.

virunga army

Precisely the protection of gorillas represents a key issue: if they become extinct, also the main reason to prevent the profanation of the park will be gone.

After almost a hundred, captivating minutes, the movie ends with a pan of the situation: the fight is still on, the oil company SOCO continues to operate in the area, the rangers don’t give up and do their everyday job under mounting pressure.

But it is off-screen, in the real world, that the turning point occurs. “Virunga” takes part in several film festivals, collecting awards, enthusiastic reviews and support through its active website.

Last June, Virunga was awarded as ”Best International Documentary” in Cinemambiente International Documentary Competition. The motivation was clear: “For the high ethical, aesthetic and emotional values in an intimate and empathetic treatment of greed and cruelty posed against kindness and love of life. The film depicts the interplay of money, politics and the environment in an international conflict, encouraging viewers to take action”.

virunga gorilla

Throughout 2014 the movie has been nominated as “Best Documentary Feature” at Tribeca Film Festival, while it has been winning the “Feature Documentary Award” at DOXA Documentary Film Festival, the “Emerging International Filmmaker Award” at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and the “Golden Rock Documentary Award” at Little Rock Film Festival. Furthermore, it has been receiving a special mention at the Brazilian festival Filmambiente.

At the end of June, the decisive good piece of news: the petition WWF started some months before against SOCO collected more than 750.000 signatures and succeeded! The British company would stop its operations in the African national park and keep out of all UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“It is a a victory for our planet and for good practices in business. This success is the work of government officials, activists within DRC and supporters worldwide who joined together to help remove the most immediate threat to Virunga” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.

virunga nocturnal landscape

Thanking all nature lovers for the support and the huge participation in the campaign, Isabella Pratesi (International conservation Director of WWF Italy) took the chance to make a new plea: “Please keep supporting us, our job is not over. We have a lot to do not only in the Virunga park- where we have to help fighting illegal hunting and resources exploitation- but all over the world. […] We strongly hope that the example of SOCO marks a new direction, where the interests of local communities and the planet win the battle over private companies’ profit”.

We are optimistic: because a chapter of this never-ending story has, for once, a happy ending.