Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/Congo, 2014. Grain Media, Violet Films. Screenplay by Orlando von Einsiedel. Cinematography by Franklin Dow. Produced by Joanna Natasegara, Orlando von Einsiedel. Music by Patrick Jonsson. Film Editing by Katie Bryer, Masahiro Hirakubo, Miikka Leskinen, St. John O’Rourke, Peta Ridley. Academy Awards 2014. Independent Spirit Awards 2014.
A century of European colonialism in Africa has created no end of famines and civil wars in many nations, with the Congo finally achieving a flimsy sense of peace in the early twenty-first century that is undone by a financially promising discovery: there is oil under Lake Edward. The sizable lake makes up a great part of the Virunga national park, a land preserve upon which thousands of people live and many animals thrive, including the world’s last known population of mountain gorillas. A country that has been plundered to no end for decades is now once again the prospect of greedy foreigners as an international oil conglomerate pushes to develop the area while the park’s rangers fight back; the filmmakers actually began the project with the intention of capturing the positive advances being made in the park’s favour thanks to increases in tourism and environmental activism, but while on location, the Congolese army retreated, M23 rebels approached the area (possibly sponsored by the oil corporation, though they deny it) and filmmakers Orlando von Einsiedel and Franklin Dow bravely kept their cameras rolling. At the heart of this story is a population of bewitchingly charming gorillas, some of them orphans who live under human care in a facility on the park’s grounds, their lively existence a heartbreaking cry for preservation. There’s also a journalist who takes some pretty daring risks by going undercover wearing a hidden camera on dates with oil executives in this riveting, inspiring documentary that encompasses all the present day realities of African life and all the beauty of the natural world in which they take place.