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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Virunga is a hard-hitting documentary that unsparingly reveals the recent turbulent, brutal events in Virunga National Park, Eastern Congo. Four heroic individuals, determined to save the native population, wildlife, and precious ecosystem in this mineral-rich area, face high-powered villains who wish to exploit its resources at any cost. Not a retelling of past history, the fimmaking crew was in Virunga photographing what was taking place. So the lifeless and wounded bodies of the victims (both human and animal) are shown in the moment. The terror on the faces of the innocents forced to evacuate their homes is real; the gunfire is real; the explosions are real. Aided by hidden cameras, viewers see the callous, paternalistic, and often racist attempts by rebels and corporate interests to "buy" those who protect the park. One scene contains a litany of obscenities, including all forms of "f--k." An important but disturbing and intense film, it's for mature teens only. Watching with adult family members is recommended. In French, Swahili, and English, subtitled when necessary.
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What's the story?
After a brief review of more than a century of colonialism, rebellion, and violence in the Eastern Congo, VIRUNGA presents the here and now. Orlando von Einsiedel and his crew were in the process of filming the efforts of valiant activists as they tried to protect the endangered gorillas, environment, and villagers of Virunga National Park when the area came under attack from rebel/mercenary forces intent on taking possession of the park in a quest to overthrow the national government, as well as SOCO, a British oil-exploration company which, it seems, will stop at nothing to gain access to what may be profitable oil reserves in the park's Lake Edward. The film follows Andrew Bauma, caretaker of a refuge for orphaned gorillas (their parents killed by poachers); Rodrigue Katembo, a park ranger/warden; Melanie Gouby, a French journalist; and Emmanuel de Merode, director of the park (a Belgian prince who has made these efforts his life's work) as they risk everything to hold off the invasions and save Virunga.
Is it any good?
The violent and corrupt morass of Congo is at the heart of this outstanding film. What was planned as documentation becomes actual war footage. The filmmakers become inadvertent heroes themselves as they risk all to film and report the tragedy and heroism taking place before their eyes. Exceptional editing, photography, in-depth interviews, and music contribute to the viewers' understanding of these events. Sequences intercutting the telegenic gorillas with their caregiver; the hurried preparations for the onslaught; and then the war itself are powerful and heartbreaking. The facts are undisputable as reported in this important film. Virunga is not to be missed by those who appreciate terrific filmmaking as a way to dispense critical information.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can discuss the multiple purposes of making a movie like Virunga. Did Virunga inspire you to learn more about the subject matter?
What qualities do the heroes of this film have in common? How can those characteristics apply to your life now or the life you'd like to lead?
Why is it valuable for people around the world to be aware of events like those shown in this movie? Even if you can't do anything to change or "fix" the specific problems, how does this awareness affect or motivate you?
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