Virunga

Impact Highlights

Virunga tells the story of a group of park rangers fighting to protect Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against the damaging incursion from unscrupulous oil company SOCO International, its aggressive public relations representatives and lawyers, and the exploitative forces they attract. The film team launched a campaign to redress the balance and inform the world of what was happening in the park. The campaign had a clear set of ambitious objectives that were designed to make a dent on this complicated, geopolitical issue with high stakes at risk.

To date, Virunga has garnered far-reaching public awareness through myriad awards, extensive global press, high-profile supporters, further action by governments and NGOs, and distribution in over 100 countries on major platforms. Threats to Virunga National Park are an ongoing intergovernmental issue still being debated by parliaments and committees. Investigators and news outlets continue to follow the story, still publishing about Virunga one year after SOCO first announced a pull back from the park. The film prompted several shareholders to act and engage with campaign goals and key SOCO shareholders have been empowered to work with the company to deal with the numerous allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuse surrounding their operations in Virunga National Park.

Note: As the campaign is still live and active, this case study only includes what is in the public domain so far. Once the campaign concludes the team will be able to provide a fuller impact report covering all aspects of the work. 

Synopsis

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth and home to the planet’s last remaining 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 orphan gorillas, and a conservationist–protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers, and the dark forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources. When the newly formed M23 rebel group declares war, a new conflict threatens the lives and stability of everyone and everything they’ve worked so hard to protect, with the filmmakers and the film’s participants caught in the crossfire. A powerful combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary, Virunga is the incredible true story of a group of courageous people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world’s forgotten, and a gripping exposé of the realities of life in the Congo.

Production Team

  • Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
  • Producers: Joanna Natasegara, Orlando von Einsiedel
  • Executive Producers: Adam Del Deo, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Drever, Maxyne Franklin, Lisa Nishimura, Jess Search and Howard G. Buffett, CEO, Howard G. Buffett Foundation
  • Impact Producer: Joanna Natasegara, Violet Films

Core Funders and Partners

AfriDocs, Appian Way, Arcus Foundation, Bertha Foundation, BRITDOC Foundation, CBA Worldview, Copeile, CREDDHO, Fledgling Fund, Global Witness, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, IDPE, Investec Asset Management, IUCN NL, Kindle Project, Netflix, Reseau Cref, SOPR, Virunga Foundation, Zoological Society of London, 11th Hour Project. (Additional partners are listed below.)

Key Stats

  • Facebook Likes: 49,000
  • Twitter Followers: 10,500
  • Web Visitors: 2,340,412
  • Over 48,000 online mentions since April 2014

Campaign

Goals: To entrench Virunga National Park as the source of peace, stability and prosperity in eastern Congo by:

  • Safeguarding Virunga National Park by highlighting and stopping the corporate wrongdoing
  • Informing the debate around extraction in world heritage sites
  • Supporting civil society’s work by enlivening and informing the debate regarding oil and sustainable development in communities within a day’s walk of Virunga National Park (Four million people)
  • Supporting the work of the sustainable development initiative, Virunga Alliance
  • Reaching a mass audience with the distribution of Virunga

The primary aim of using film was to bring Virunga to as wide an audience as possible worldwide and to raise maximum awareness of the threats faced by the park. By releasing the film on Netflix to their 62 million subscribers in over 50 countries, this distribution was the perfect platform for the film and campaign, ensuring Virunga reached a huge international audience.

Core Funders and Partners: AfriDocs, Appian Way, Arcus Foundation, Bertha Foundation, BRITDOC Foundation, CBA Worldview, Copeile, CREDDHO, Fledgling Fund, Global Witness, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, IDPE, Investec Asset Management, IUCN NL, Kindle Project, Netflix, Reseau Cref, SOPR, Virunga Foundation, ZSL, 11th Hour Project.

As well as being supported by this illustrious  group of partners, the campaign also garnered support from some incredible high-profile advocates, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Howard G. Buffett, who came on board as Executive Producers as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Richard Branson, Sir David Attenborough, President Bill Clinton, Youssou N’Dour, Fally Ipupa, Salif Keita, Edward Norton, Bianca Jagger and Vivienne Westwood, Hillary Clinton, Ben Affleck, Bennett Miller, Chelsea Clinton, Mo Ibrahim, Hadeel Ibrahim, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Haggis, Wendy Schmidt, Paul Wesley, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Frances Fisher, David Beckham, Natalie Portman, Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda.

Impact

Change in Awareness

Virunga and its campaign have brought Virunga National Park to an international audience in over 100 countries. They have also set a precedent for other world heritage sites in danger. BAFTA and Academy Award® nominations have helped ensure an international presence on the largest and most prestigious possible platform for the film.

The fate of Virunga National Park was always a global issue and one which would dictate policy in many other similar cases, but was not widely known. It is now far more well-known amongst the public. For key decision-makers, the idea that Virunga National Park is a precedent setting case for other world heritage sites in danger, as well as a warning for international corporations working in fragile environments, has been entrenched and expanded.

Distribution: To date Virunga is available to screen in over 50 countries where Netflix is available to a potential audience of 62 million homes. Because of the nature of the platform, the film is consistently and constantly available, which has a strong advantage over traditional broadcast.

Despite taking a world rights contract on Virunga, Netflix proved themselves to be not only an understanding distribution partner to the campaign but a willing and flexible ally. Netflix allowed a large amount of non-theatrical and influencer screenings as well as the entire African distribution element knowing the importance of the work to the issue. Working this way, with the distribution complementing and highlighting the campaign work, only further magnified the best of both sides, creating a snowballing press effect around Virunga. On May 21, 2015, Virunga had its official African broadcast premiere on AfriDocs screening to all 49 sub-Saharan countries in Africa on satellite channel DSTV ED190 and terrestrially to an additional 100 cities in 8 countries on channel GoTV 65.

Festivals and Awards: Virunga has screened at 77 film festivals worldwide and has been nominated for 37 festival awards, winning 34. Virunga has also been nominated for 25 highly prestigious international awards including: 2015 BAFTA and Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Film Independent Spirit Award, three Cinema Eye Honors, PGA Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures and DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary. Of these 25 nominations, Virunga has won 11 including: a Peabody Award, TV Academy Honor, Tribeca Film Festival Disruption Award and Hamptons International Victor Rabinowitz Grant Award for Social Justice. (Total nominations: 62; Total awards won: 46)

In just over one year, Virunga has screened in 132 countries, reaching audiences in over 60% of the world. The film has achieved a rating of 95% on Metacritic, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.3/10 on IMDB and is one of the highest rated films on Netflix.

Virunga has held nearly 100 high-level stakeholder screenings worldwide and been used by a wide array of organizations in different areas of the work including the UNCCOI, UNESCO, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, Dutch Development Bank Triodos, World Parks Congress, Generation Investment, Google and DFID opening up debate around resource issues and development, security and post conflict rule of law. SOCO shareholder and wider investment community screenings led to the shareholders themselves hosting their own screenings for their clients and the business community seriously considering their own role in these issues. In addition, there have been screenings at six parliaments, on Capitol Hill and many diplomatic missions as well as screenings with the Congolese community in the UK and the US, and a special screening hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton ensuring those working at the geopolitical level are aware and engaged with the issue.

Screening attendees: Total estimated audience for all influencer/outreach screenings is approximately 10,000.

Key Press Mentions: Since the film’s launch in April 2014, there have been over 600 global media articles including: CNN, BBC, New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, The Sun, The Guardian, as well as a recent front page of the Cape Times. In addition, there were multiple appearances on international TV channels and radio stations, including CNN, Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera America, BBC, MSNBC, PBS, NPR and CCTV Africa as well as in-depth articles in De Spiegel, Global Witness, The Telegraph and Men’s Journal and a Huffington Post op-ed by Archbishop Tutu, Sir Richard Branson and Howard G. Buffett. Human Rights Watch and Global Witness carried out further investigations.

Virunga was subject to an extensive, unprecedented marketing campaign by Netflix in the run up to the Academy Awards including a billboard campaign in London, LA and New York, a print advertising campaign that ran across all key publications, including the New York Times, LA Times and the Evening Standard. Netflix helped target the London billboards in locations that would be seen by SOCO’s peer group to gain maximum exposure.

Change in Behavior

What happens in Virunga is precedent-setting not only for other world heritage sites as risk of exploitation but also for vulnerable societies attempting to garner economic growth without further damaging their own communities. Virunga National Park is an ongoing inter-governmental issue and the team continue to be invited to discuss the issue by parliaments and committees as well as at conferences from the World Bank to Transparency International and has been cited in all key discussion forums, such as the World Parks Congress, from corruption to environmental protection. The film has ensured the conversation is at the top of the agenda across the board.

Shareholder: The team’s engagement with SOCO shareholders as well as the wider business and investment community began by showing the film in intimate settings for key high-profile businesses and investors. Significant pressure was put on SOCO by shareholder Aviva who joined the media call for SOCO International to address the allegations against them. In a cynical ploy to calm the situation prior to their 2014 AGM SOCO International made a deal with global NGO WWF promising to leave Virunga.

In February 2015, after a series of private briefings by the campaign team and their partners, the Church of England Ethical Investment Fund called upon SOCO to address allegations concerning their operations in Virunga National Park. In an unprecedented move, the Fund publicly stated its dissatisfaction with SOCO’s failure to adequately address the concerns raised in the movie and subsequent reports.

Coinciding with SOCO’s AGM this month, new evidence was released by Virunga partner Global Witness that expanded on allegations of bribery and corruption, building on the evidence in the film. This news was carried by many major publications and networks including the BBC, ITV, C4 News, the New York Times, the Telegraph and Al Jazeera. SOCO’s own investigation was branded unsubstantial by shareholders and was followed by a statement from the Church of England, asking for SOCO’s Chairman to resign.

Public engagement: The team has been successful in growing an active online community. For example, their Facebook community alone has grown from 9,688 to 33,000 since the release of the movie in April 2014.

From the outset, the team called for Virunga’s audiences and the wider general public have been called upon to “Take Action” through four key areas, also listed on virungamovie.com:

Spread the word about the park and issues at the heart of the film

The team receive daily interaction on Facebook, Twitter and through the website contact form from new and existing members of #TeamVirunga — over 14 months of the live campaign the team are still consistently engaging with thousands of people each month.

Stay informed by signing up to our website

20,000 members — and growing — have signed up through virungamovie.com. Members of the mailing list receive regular #TeamVirunga updates to their inbox, along with analysis of our campaign development and specific calls to action from the film team.

Donate to Virunga National Park

The park has received steady donations over the last 12 months since the launch of the film, which spiked at the time of the Netflix launch and over the Oscar nominations period.

The filmmakers donated all profit from the license fee from Netflix as well as all award prize money to Virunga National Park.

Since the film’s launch in April 2014, tourism in the park has increased and the number of visitors is currently at an all-time high! This is particularly great news because of the prominent role tourism plays in Virunga National Park’s ten year initiative, the Virunga Alliance, that aims to drive sustainable and economic development in the park.

Check your investments

#TeamVirunga has pressured shareholders to safeguard the park. Following the Netflix launch, there has been a marked increase in members of the public writing to shareholders and asking them to positively engage with SOCO.

Political Impact
Virunga has:

  • Been screened within state, national or international legislatures, or the EU or UN
  • Been used by partner organizations to lobby politicians or lawmakers
  • Created new political advocates
  • Been used as a lobbying tool by politicians to lobby other politicians or lawmakers
  • Been used as evidence in governmental committees
  • Been cited in debate in national and regional legislatures

In conclusion: Much progress has been achieved with the Virunga campaign, forcing SOCO International to defend itself against criticism from shareholders, the media and NGOS. Authorities in the UK and US have not announced any formal investigations but SOCO’s shifting communications and unfruitful attempts to kill the media storm have served to raise further suspicion. A final hope for the team is that SOCO is brought to justice for human rights violations, bribery and corruption and that the license for Virunga’s block V oil concession is resigned to history.