Emmanuel De Merode is a prince literally and figuratively. He holds the title courtesy of the Belgian government as a descendant of that country’s nobility. He has also dedicated his life to preserving the wildlife and wild areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, moving there from his home in Kenya to become the director of the Virunga National Park, remaining on the job even after being shot in an assassination attempt in April of 2014. You would never guess any of from his easygoing manner and his wicked sense of humor that was very much in evidence when I spoke with him, filmmaker Orlando Von Ensiedel and gorilla caretaker Andre Bauma on October 27, 2014. Bauma has devoted his life to raising young gorillas orphaned by poachers and other dangers such as revolution and corporate exploitation of natural resources, including the discovery of oil under Lake Edward in the heart of the park. NB: Bauma spoke French with De Merode translating.
Once we started discussing the efforts of SOCO Intenational plc to corrupt the government, and the local rangers, into allowing illegal oil drilling in the Park, as well as the ongoing civil war that threatened to take their lives, the mood turned more serious. Even before the film was released, SOCO was advising the filmmakers not to show it, but the first-hand reporting over two years about how laws were undermined, human rights abused, and the fragile ecosystem of the park were threatened was too important to be suppressed, and the courage of the rangers in defending the park in the face of such real dangers too compelling.
We went on to talk about why Von Ensiedel chose to start the film with the funeral of a ranger killed on the job, the difficulties of prosecuting a multinational company, the way history has been repeating itself in the Congo for centuries, and, from Bauma, both the unexpected snack that his gorilla orphans adore, and his profoundly enlightened words on why having hope has nothing to do with being naïve.
VIRUNGA is Von Einseidel’s documentary about the struggle to keep the Virunga National Park secure from a variety of threats, threats to not only the wildlife in the park, including the last mountain gorillas in the wild, but also to the rangers and gorilla caretakers that oversee the park and its wildlife. De Merode is the director of Virunga National Park, and Bauma is one of the gorilla caretakers there who has devoted his life to raising young gorillas orphaned by poachers and other dangers such as revolution and corporate exploitation of natural resources, including the discover of oil under Lake Edward in the heart of the park.