Quality uncontrolled

Collective details journalists’ attempts to expose government corruption in Romania

Documentary, not rated, 109 minutes, in Romanian and English with subtitles, Violet Crown's Virtual Cinema, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Vudu, 4 chiles

The fire started when pyrotechnics ignited the flammable acoustic foam inside the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, in October 2015. After finishing a set, the lead singer of metalcore band Goodbye to Gravity calmly told the audience, “Something’s on fire over there,” and asked for an extinguisher. But within seconds, Colectiv was engulfed in flames. More than two dozen people were killed instantly. More than three dozen deaths followed within days, due to preventable infections. The patients were refused transfers to better-equipped medical facilities in Germany. It was the beginning of a nationwide outcry over a broken healthcare system that forced Romania’s social democratic government to resign.

Collective is the harrowing account of the fire’s aftermath. It’s the story of a dogged team of investigative journalists at the Romanian newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor whose efforts unmasked a cover-up of staggering proportions. Director Alexander Nanau follows the team as they string together the myriad threads that led to the deaths of so many. Their conferences, in which they map out strategies for pursuing leads, lend the film to the feverish buzz of a war room drama. Only, it isn’t fiction.

There is no talking to the camera, no breaking the fourth wall. All of the events unfold in real time, as they happened.

Just how unsanitary were the conditions in the hospital? The investigators caught Hexi Pharmaceutical diluting their products. They discovered bacteria in the hospital sterilization tanks, and one says, “Do you realize we’ve all been exposed while in the hospital?”

But Collective is more than the story of the investigation. It’s a compelling look at journalists working on behalf of the public good and holding authorities to account. The team faced an uphill battle that stretched from months into years. They were accused of fanning the flames of public panic, and even of driving a man — a key player in the cover-up — to suicide, even though he was driven by his own guilty conscience.

Watching this from the perspective of an American citizen, it’s difficult not to find parallels with our own embattled healthcare system. Medical moguls enriched themselves at the expense of human lives, a scenario that’s similarly led to legal battles in U.S. courtrooms over grossly inflated drug costs. We also see equivalence in the challenges faced by journalists and the free press in covering government corruption. Collective underscores just how vital the role of good journalism is to a functioning democracy. The truth is uncomfortable, and facts are infuriatingly tenacious. But, without them, we live in a world of lies. 

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