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Collective: digging for the truth of a tragedy

Newsroom makes a compelling stage in well-crafted documentary that explores the fallout of a tragic fire

19 November, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

A brilliant documentary but not an easy watch – Collective

COLLECTIVE
Directed by Alexander Nanua
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

UNTANGLING a vast and systematic case of corporate murder provides the narrative arc for this brilliant documentary.

It tells the story of a group of journalists, working for a daily sports newspaper in Romania, who turned their skills to investigating a horrendous tragedy made so much worse by a rotten cabal of politicians, doctors, health managers and a medical products firm.

In 2015, a fire tore through the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, and 27 people lost their lives. But this was not the end of the heartache. Of 180 injured, a further 37 died in hospital – and the reason why becomes the focus of Alexander Nanua’s brilliant documentary.

This is by no means an easy watch. Straight from the off, we are submerged in tragedy: from an opening scene of grieving relatives demanding answers, cutting to horrific footage of the fire starting, it chills completely, and makes what is about to unfold even more shocking.

As a heavy metal singer blasts out lyrics to a song that, in what brings a horrible sense of foreboding to the viewer, ends with the line “F*** you wicked corruption, it’s been there since our inception,” a stage trick with fireworks goes badly wrong. We watch as a devastating blaze engulfs the scene in a matter of seconds.

At first, questions that caused outcry were based on why there were no fire exits. As the death toll rose, journalists at a daily sports newspaper, Gazeta Sporturilor, started asking why patients were not being sent to neighbouring countries who had world-class burns units. They were told there was no need. Romanian hospitals were capable.

When Nanua started filming, he and his subjects could not have had an inkling of quite how far the story they were covering was going to go. The persistence of reporters Catalin Tolontan, Razan Lutac and Tedy Ursuleanu, backed by their colleagues and editor, uncovered a scandal that would bring down the government.

Doctors were taking bribes to use certain disinfectants, provided by a firm called Hexi Pharma – but the products supplied were being diluted 10 times over before delivery. We see the effects not sterilising equipment has on burns patients.

The newsroom at Gazeta Sporturilor makes a compelling stage – watching them attempt to comprehend the evidence they uncover is moving. They are campaigning and combative, honest and fair, and aware of their responsibility. Access enjoyed by Nanau where he enters not just the reporters’ work spaces but that of under-pressure ministers, has been put to good use in a well-crafted documentary.

The actions of the guilty has something of King Midas about them – desperate for gold, they are blinded to the effects their crimes have. And the criminals do not threaten night-time harbour-side trips in a pair of concrete boots – they are the grifters who are facilitated by the state.

It raises the question for the UK today: what truths are hiding behind the procurement of vital health products in the UK over the past nine months? Who has benefitted, and who has paid?

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