Thursday, 12 February 2015


It's a sorry thing to acknowledge, but Westerners will probably never fully understand Africa. It is not a continent like ours are, it's too hot, too proud of its traditions, and too integrally connected to its wildlife. We need to understand it, though, and we need to respect it, and its citizens need us to stop undermining its self-respect by invading and exploiting, as we continue to. Orlando von Einsiedel's sobering documentary Virunga gives us the vital history lesson only briefly - its premier concerns are so pressing they're not even in the present, they're in the future. It's a sharp slap in the face for a culture that behaves with absurd arrogance and naivety, justifying its senseless pursuits in monetary terms, privately, or in barefaced racism. Publicly, no justification is required if no problems are uncovered, and this is why Virunga is so important a document. Though its focus may be broad (where to end one's catalogue of Africa's endless woes?), its message insinuates itself quite pointedly into the viewer's consciousness. von Einsiedel here charts the characteristics of the infliction of pain - how its European techniques beget African wounds. Society is eviscerated, the natural landscape is threatened and the vast variety of animals that co-exist with the human beings in this part of the world pay an irreversible price. What few mountain gorillas remain in Virunga are forced to endure emotional and psychological suffering that they don't deserve, don't understand and don't possess the ability to overcome. Alas, no matter how well we Westerners may ever come to understand Africa, the damage has already been done. A shaky, sprawling film, Virunga is technically haphazard but ethically unquestionable. It's more powerful as a political statement than as a work of art, but its power is monumental in either case.