Virunga: conservation is no walk in the park

Movies & Theatre

“IT’S INTENSE, and it can be quite sad, actually,” journalist Mélanie Gouby sums up her feelings on the events playing out in the Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Attempts by armed militias, poachers and global corporates all intent on exploiting mineral reserves in this small part of Africa mirror some of the conflict that is playing out in other countries on the continent.

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Andr� Bauma is a park ranger who takes care of orphaned gorillas in the Virunga National Park. In the documentary he talks about his responsibility towards his human and gorilla families. As his gorilla daughter Ndakasi gets older he is finding it more and more difficult to carry her on his back, but Ndakasi insists, like the clingy toddler she still is.Journalist M�lanie Gouby

Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, the documentary Virunga unpacks the conflict, simplifying an issue complicated by colonial history, global economics, individual desperation and government complicity.

Virunga was executive produced by Leonardo diCaprio and has won more than 40 awards since its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.

It is is a mix of investigative journalism and observational footage which presents a portrait of a richly biodiverse region being exploited by the greedy and corrupt with no thought for long-term consequence.

The 96-minute documentary features interviews and footage of the escalating conflict between a handful of individuals and a British corporation which has been granted a concession to explore for oil in the World Heritage Site of Virunga National Park.

This area is home to the last of the mountain gorillas and we see how park rangers try to keep poachers out and deal with the armed militias – all to the backdrop of the Civil War which flares up three quarters of the way through the doccie.

This creates a startling and tense glimpse into what it feels like for the regular folk of the area when the militias come rolling in and mortars start exploding.

As yet, the allegations about what the corporation has done remain that, but the documentary is damning, though as Gouby points out, her greatest fear is that even after people see it, nothing will be done.

The website is mentioned as a way for people to make their voices heard and find out more.

Later this week, Virunga premieres on African screens on the Afridocs programme which broadcasts twice a week on DStv ED Channel 190 and GoTV across sub-Saharan Africa. This broadcast stream specifically screens African and other international documentaries to counter the fact that though many documentaries are shot in and about Africa, the local audience seldom gets a chance to access the finished product.

Afridocs programme manager, Theresa Hill, says they became aware of the film because it is supported by their funder, the Bertha Foundation.

“We were interested to acquire it for broadcast because it is a familiar story, that of a foreign company wanting African resources without any benefit to the local people. Often our audiences don’t have access to quality documentaries. Many of these are only available at film festivals which the majority of our audiences don’t have the opportunity to attend,” said Hill.

Virunga is a case in point as it first screened at last year’s TriContinental Film Festival and will also screen at this year’s Encounters Film Festival which takes place from June 4 to 14 in Joburg and Cape Town.

Going forward, Afridocs will also screen Göran Olsson’s documentary about African countries’ liberation struggles of the ’70s and ’80s, Concerning Violence, on May 25, and Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi’s Sisters In Law (about a small courtroom in Cameroon where two women are trying to change how people view domestic abuse) on May 28.

The first week in June is dedicated to films from the Filmmakers Against Racism initiative – – which was started as a response to the 2008 xenophobic attacks.

• On Thursday Virunga screens on Afridocs at 8pm (DStv ED190 and GOtv 65). It repeats at 2am, 8am, 2pm on Friday and Sunday and at 8pm on Sunday.

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