For the 2021 Academy Awards, three different countries submitted documentaries about earnest individuals fighting government corruption. Once Upon a Time in Venezuela and River Tales from Luxembourg/Nicaragua tell their stories from the point-of-view of poor villagers. The corruption revealed in Collective (Colectiv) is on a larger scale.
On October 30, 2015, a fire broke out at the Club Colectiv in Bucharest killing 26 people. The film Collective opens with footage from the disaster. Lead singer Andrei Găluț of the band Goodbye to Gravity, says, “Thank you very much for being here tonight. Something’s on fire here. That’s not part of the show. Is there a fire extinguisher?” As it turns out, there was only one fire extinguisher and only one exit. Găluț survived, but the other four members of the band died. Some of the victims died from burns and some from toxic fumes from the burning foam used for soundproofing.
This tragedy revealed a web of corruption that led to the resignation of Mayor Cristian Popescu Piedone and the resignation of the ruling national cabinet. However, what happened afterwards was a bigger scandal. Thirty-eight of the victims who survived the fire later died in hospitals—including many who had been admitted for non-life-threatening injuries.
In the film Collective, director Alexander Nanau follows intrepid investigative newspaper editor Cătălin Tolontan and his team at Gazeta Sporturilor (Sports Gazette) newspaper as they dig deeper and deeper to find out why so many people died in hospitals. At a street demonstration, one protestor, speaking through a megaphone says, “Applause for the journalists who uncovered this story….The best investigations are made by a sports daily. That’s the state of our press.”
With the help of secret cameras and courageous whistleblowing nurses, doctors and accountants, the journalists discover that, thanks to bribes and widespread greed and lack of compassion, the disinfectants used throughout Romania’s hospital system have been diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. Specialized burn care units are unequipped and insufficiently staffed to deal with the victims of the Colectiv disaster and, without question, any similar catastrophes that might develop.
Along the way, the film shifts its focus to Vlad Voiculescu, who is appointed the minister of health. Voiculescu, a patient advocate and economist, is (brace yourself) honest and sincere about wanting to get to the root of the problem and to replace Romania’s corrupt and deadly healthcare system with one that is fair and efficient.
It almost goes without saying that the former politicians who got the people of Romania into this horrible situation want to regain power. And they are willing to do anything to win the next election. This includes lying, spreading false information, attacking Voiculesu’s character, etc. Corrupt politicians ignoring the best health practices that could save the lives of their citizens in order to promote their own financial and political interests? Sound familiar? If you are a citizen of the United States or one of many other countries, this story is sadly familiar.
Although Collective deals with Romania, you don’t have to be Romanian to be inspired by people doing everything they can to expose injustice and make a better world for innocent, exploited citizens.