Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Virunga Movie Poster Image
Outstanding but shattering docu set in war-torn Congo.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 97 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes the importance of protecting the planet's wildlife. Reveals the plight of the people in the villages of the Eastern Congo and the growing dangers to its natural environment, specifically Virunga National Park by invoking empathy. Juxtaposes human rights and animal rights against the greed and corruption of corporations and profiteers who would exploit the world's natural resources. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Chronicles true heroes of our times. Focuses on their courage, commitment, unselfishness, compassion, and steadfastness. All are models of proactive people who have chosen to make activism their way of life. Primary villain is SOCO, a British oil-producing corporation, which clearly intends to exploit Eastern Congo's natural resources; secondary villains are those who succumb to bribery and/or choose to create chaos in already unstable country.


Filmmakers are on the scene when actual violence erupts. Heartbreaking and disturbing footage includes: a mass exodus of people forced to evacuate their villages as the sounds of gunfire get ever closer; shots of animals killed and mutilated by poachers; visuals of children seriously wounded by acts of war; real-life gunfire and explosions as rebels overtake the national park; the terror and devastation that accompanies that invasion; two funerals during which real grief is evident. 


One scene contains dozens of "f--k," in a variety of forms. A virulent racist is heard talking about the native Congolese -- for example, their "childlike" nature and supposed inability to govern themselves. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 15-year-old Written byevanr February 19, 2015

Excellent Documentary about War Threatening Park in Congo Which Harbors Endangered Gorillas

The documentary presents the dedicated individuals working in a large park and wildlife preserve in eastern Congo. A particular focus is on those working with t... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bypeopleparlor May 11, 2020

Excellent but extremely depression documentary

Virunga is an extremely depressing movie about the warzone the congo is at the moment. It is very sad and there is some intense violence. Tanks, helicopters, an... Continue reading

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?  

  • How does Virunga promote courage, compassion, and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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