Virunga documentary wins award at European premiere

28 May 2014 | News story

“Virunga” is the incredible true story of a group of brave people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world has forgotten. The documentary film grips the local and international public with the development perspective of sustainable solutions for the war-torn eastern part of DR Congo.

“Virunga” saw its first unofficial premiere in Europe at the Docville International Documentary Film Festival in Leuven on 9 May 2014, where it won the prize for best movie in the category ‘Knowledge and Conscience’. Director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara were present to answer questions from the audience and to receive the award.

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most biodiverse places in the world and home to the last of the mountain gorillas. In this wild, but enchanted environment, a small and embattled team of park rangers - including an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a caretaker of orphaned gorillas, and a Belgian conservationist - protect this UNESCO World Heritage site from armed militia, poachers and commercial interests which seek to control Congo's rich natural resources. Since the newly formed M23 rebel group declared war in May 2012, a new conflict threatens the lives and stability of everyone and everything they've worked so hard to protect.

These threats are now putting the conservation of Virunga at serious risk, to the point where future generations may never enjoy it. As Africa's oldest and most biodiverse national park, it is alarming for Virunga to be in such a vulnerable state. Virunga should be off limits for oil exploration, which the World Heritage Committee considers to be incompatible with its status as a World Heritage site. IUCN has repeatedly stressed that the protection of Virunga National Park against extractive industries is an absolute necessity in order to preserve its wildlife and safeguard the livelihoods of its people.

Since the early nineties, more than 150 park rangers have died while protecting Virunga. Since 2011 reports from local activists of receiving threats of intimidation, violence and death linked to their public opposition to oil exploration in Virunga National Park have increased. Mid April, Virunga National Park’s Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode was victim of a violent attack.

In a joint declaration, the EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs and Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation Jean-Pascal Labille urge shareholders and all relevant authorities to make sure that SOCO international PLC – the last remaining oil and gas company to seek activities in Virunga – respects international laws and regulations and is in compliance with all of the required standards considering its oil exploration activities.

Reported by IUCN Brussels