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Film / Virunga

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Virunga is a 2014 documentary feature directed by Orlando von Einsiedel.

It is about conservation efforts at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The film focuses on three workers at the park: chief warden Emmanuel de Merode (a white man from Belgium), central sector warden Rodrigue Katembo, and Andre Bauma, a caretaker at the gorilla refuge. A fourth character getting lots of screen time is Melanie Gouby, a French journalist.

At first the main threat to the park seems to be poachers, who are a plague on the wildlife, killing elephants and the critically endangered mountain gorilla. However, other threats soon emerge. There is the matter of Soco International, a British petroleum company that wants to drill for oil in the park, something that surely will do incalculable damage to the park itself and the lake on the park's northern border. And an immediate threat blows up in the form of MS 23, a rebel army fighting against the Congolese government. The see-saw nature of the war between the government and the rebels soon finds MS 23 bearing down on the park itself.



  • An Arm and a Leg: Stock footage shows pictures of Congolese without hands because their hands were chopped off by Belgian colonial masters. In the present day, Kaboko, one of the gorillas at the shelter, lost a hand to poachers.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: De Morode stumbles across a dead soldier in the forest—all we see is a boot and a green pants leg, but we hear the flies buzzing very loudly. Moments after the rangers find a mother gorilla carrying a three-month old baby. A relieved De Morode says "New birth."
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Many. Water dripping off leaves and falling in puddles. Hummingbirds flitting about. Caterpillars crawling over leaves. Close-ups of tall grass as the sun rises.
  • Call-Back: The Spy Cam footage of an MS 23 officer saying "Yes we are looking for a percentage" of Soco International's revenue from the park is played once earlier in the film, and again near the end, right after a scene where Gouby is shown looking on a computer at Soco's steadily rising stock price.
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  • Flashback: One scene is a flashback to a gorilla massacre in 2007. Apparently the poachers tried to kill off all the gorillas in the belief that if they did, the park would no longer be protected.
  • Gorn: A dead, rotting elephant, its head missing (for the ivory tusks), covered in flies.
  • Jitter Cam: Seen early in the film when the camera follows park rangers on a raid against poachers. Seen a lot more later in the film when the camera is fleeing a town as MS 23 rebels close in, with tanks and artillery, shooting in the streets.
  • Orphanage of Love: The mountain gorilla shelter where orphaned juveniles are taken in and cared for.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: After the film is over but before the credits roll, there is a printed response from Soco International. The folks at Soco insist that they had no contact with the MS 23 rebels, they never tried to bribe anybody, the rebel captain caught on camera was not working on their behalf, and the white guys from Soco talking about partnering with MS 23 to open up the park to oil drilling were acting on their own hook.
  • The Place: Virunga National Park in the Congo.
  • P.O.V. Cam: The camera hurriedly ascends the stairs of a lookout tower at park headquarters. The scene then cuts to de Morode in the lookout tower, anxiously watching for the arrival of MS 23.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Soco people, who do not like de Morode and see him as an obstacle to opening the park for drilling, grouse about a Belgian royal interfering. Emanuel de Morode is in fact a Belgian prince.
  • Scenery Porn: Many shots of the jaw-dropping beauty of the park, although one scene includes Soundtrack Dissonance with clearly audible artillery fire in the distance as the camera glides over the rolling hills.
  • Spy Cam: Melanie Gouby wears a hidden camera to record what turn out to be highly revealing and incriminating conversations with Soco personnel on the ground in Congo. Similarly, Katembo wears a hidden camera to surreptitiously film MS 23 members who claim to be working with Soco.
  • The Stinger: After the credits have finished rolling, there is a brief scene showing Andre taking in a new orphaned gorilla at the shelter.
  • Stock Footage: Less than in a lot of documentaries. But there is a fairly short montage at the beginning showing the tragic, war-torn history of the Congo ever since the unspeakably evil Belgian colonizationnote , the execution of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba at the behest of the Belgians, and the history of combat and unrest in decades since. Later in the film there's clips of news coverage of the war between the government and the rebels.
  • Time Lapse: A quick shot of the stars arcing across the sky at night in the park.