Here's a question the rest of us are lucky never to have had to think about: How many people does it take to bear away the corpse of a grown gorilla? Early in Virunga, Orlando von Einsiedel's stunning heartbreaker of a doc, we see men, a dozen or so, carrying one great beast sprawled out on a funeral litter.
There are more upsetting scenes to come. British oil company SOCO has won the right to conduct seismic testing in the search for drillable oil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site housing about half of the world's mountain gorillas plus many of the other animals you dream of when you dream of Africa. The park has survived poaching, an ongoing civil war, a refugee crisis, and other attempts at exploitation.
Journalist Melanie Gouby, meanwhile, has finagled her way into dinners with SOCO employees; unaware she's taping them, they speak casual horrors: "The best solution, effective for everyone, is to recolonize these countries," says the company's field operations manager. (He's since been fired.)
Gutsy Gouby also films interviews with the man in charge of the M23 rebel group, who suggests he's made deals with SOCO to clear park officials from Virunga. SOCO insists it has no relationship with M23, and that nobody working for the oil company was "formally present" the day that M23 soldiers stormed into the park itself. Virunga shows us the park staff armed and waiting at a shelter housing gorillas, ready to quite literally defend the last of a species against the worst of global capitalism. This is one of the year's most compelling and important films.