The Reel Review
In the months following the October 2015 fire that killed 27 people at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, dozens more of those hospitalized died from preventable bacterial infections. This film from director Alexander Nanau follows investigative journalists at the Romanian newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor as they uncover that a national pharmaceutical company for years had been selling drastically watered down disinfectant to the nation’s 300 hospitals, all with the knowledge of government officials. As that bombshell story goes public, even more shocking and sickening revelations about the rotten underbelly of Romania’s healthcare system come to light.
The harrowing footage from inside the nightclub as the fire took place, and the heartbreaking visuals of survivors and victims’ families helps underscore the human toll of the tragedy. But Collective is more about the essential, unglamorous elements of investigative journalism, and about the challenges of fixing Romania’s dumpster fire of a healthcare system, as seen through the horrified eyes of newly appointed health minister Vlad Voiculescu.
Do not expect an easy to follow, Hollywood type story with big powerhouse “Oscar clip” moments. This is a much more realistic, raw, and riveting documentary, with production values that are at times clumsy, and even tedious and require the viewer’s full attention. But the overriding message is critically important: investigative journalism is a necessity in maintaining a functioning democracy, as is having government officials with the courage to root out corruption when they find it. And for that, the horrifying and compelling Collective is one of the best documentaries of 2020.
• Collective is Romania’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021.
• Following his time as Romanian Health Minister, Vlad Voiculescu briefly sought public office in the Bucharest city government. He has since joined the Aspen Institute as a patient advocate and health policy expert.
• Investigative journalist Catalin Tolontan is one of the best known sports journalists in Romania. He says the success of an investigation is not in the number of resignations or prosecutions that it causes, but in informing the general public about the forces that affect their lives.