In 2015, a fire ripped through the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania. 26 people died in the fire - needlessly, as it was revealed the venue only had one exit, no fire sprinklers, and was extremely flammable due to the foam used inside for soundproofing. But the tragedy unearthed a far greater plot that extended to the highest levels of power in Romania - a plot that the documentary 'Collective' watches unravel with chilling impartiality.
The horror of the event is captured inside the venue on phone cameras. The moment fireworks set the stage alight. The mere seconds in which it spreads across the room. The panic and mad rush as people try to escape. The screams as they realise they can't.
A further 38 people die in hospitals after the fire. Authorities reassure families and the press they are handling the health of the victims impeccably. And yet, bacterial infections lead to the death of dozens more people. Hospital workers reveal they were "kept in a known septic environment and exposed to some of the most resistant hospital bacteria in Europe." Catalin Tolotan and his fellow reporters from the Sports Gazette discover Hexi Pharma, who supplies disinfectants to hundreds of the country's hospitals, has been diluting - sometimes over 10 times - their products' active ingredients.
This isn't a story about the survivors of the fire. It's a 'Spotlight'-style investigation by the team at the Sports Gazette to determine the scale of the scandal. It's a heavy burden on their shoulders, one you see weigh heavier on them as the story unravels. This is a documentary about wide systemic failure. It's a system sagging with corruption and lies. 'Collective' shows the efforts of one group of people to bring the truth to the people of Romania.
As the story unfolds, we are witness to wicked, deplorable acts, put in place by those entirely focused on personal gain and void of any humanity. Bribes. Stolen money. Cut corners. All in exchange for human lives. We see a dying burns patient on life support infested with worms. We hear some patients with just 10% burns who could easily have recovered instead died of bacterial infections. We're informed by one doctor the only way to move forward with her hospital would be to shut it down. We're told the estimated death toll from this scandal is over 12,000 lives in a year - and that's just the reported cases.
Bribes. Stolen money. Cut corners. All in exchange for human lives. We see a dying burns patient on life support infested with worms. We're told the estimated death toll from this scandal is over 12,000 lives in a year.
This is a film with access far beyond the usual scope of a documentary. That's partly due to the luck of being in the right place at the right time, but also the skill of filmmaker Alexander Nanau. The depth of information is incredible; interweaving the key events from the reporters, survivors and behind closed doors meetings with the new Health Minister, Vlad Voiculesu, as he tries earnestly to restore some public trust towards his department. There's no narration, no interviews, and no character introductions. We view the scandal as it unfolds, from a cold and uncompromising viewpoint. As the giddying details unfurl, the complex story is carefully and cleverly laid out for maximum dramatic impact and optimal clarify for the audience to take in.
As we witness the chronological outcome of events, we reach a bleak and sudden ending that leaves us to ask the question - what now? That's precisely what many Romanians would also be asking of their government: should things slowly but surely improve on the path Vlad Voiculesu set them upon, or revert to old ways for ease, convenience and a share in the dirty money? Only time will tell. What is fortunate is that the unrelenting work of Catalin Tolotan and the Sports Gazette team persevered under criticism to bring this heinous situation to light.