Colective was a popular nightclub in Bucharest, Romania.  In 2015, a fire broke out during a band performance killing 27 people and injuring 180. The public protests that erupted over the lack of fire exits in the club led to the resignations of government officials, including the Minister of Health.  Within four months of the fire, 37 of the critically burned died, not as originally thought from the burns they suffered, but from hospital- acquired infections.
The feature documentary follows Catalin Tolontan, an investigative journalist at a sports newspaper and his team as they track down the cause of the fatal infections.  They are aided by doctors from the hospital who come forward to voice their suspicion that the infection control agents used by the hospital were diluted to the point of being ineffective.  The journalists bring samples to a lab which verifies that the agents were diluted to 10% of their effective strength.  The owner of the company supplying the agents had been engaged in the practice for years.
We hear tragic stories from parents whose children died, prevented by “communication errors” from having them transferred to other, better equipped burn units in other European countries.  And we meet the survivors, among them, Tedy Ursuleanu, who, despite her disfigurement, bravely poses for photographs for an exhibit about the event.  The film returns to Tedy at several moments--- she is a reminder of the human tragedy that has caused so much suffering. And we listen to the despair of a doctor who says, “We’re doctors; but we are no longer human. All that matters is money,” as she describes how politics, bribery and greed have taken over the health system and made patients’ lives expendable.
This is a story without a happy ending.  Vlad Voiculescu, the newly appointed health minister who previously worked in patient advocacy tries to reform the system and install safeguards against hospital procedures that fall short of accreditation requirements.  But the system proves too strong.  This time political corruption wins over people’s health.


At times this is a difficult film to watch.  Graphic footage shows the fire consuming the nightclub as people scream and rush to the doors.  We see the aftermath, scarred bodies and missing limbs, and we witness the tears and sadness of the victims and their families as they come to understand what went so terribly wrong at the hospital.

Collective is a powerful example of dogged investigative journalism.  The bravery of the survivors, the efforts of reformers and whistleblowers who expose false contracts and dangerous practices that lead to fatal infections make this a compelling and engaging story.  These efforts may not have resulted in lasting reforms immediately, but by bringing public awareness to the critical shortcomings, corruption and politicization of the Romanian health care system, the filmmakers have created an important cautionary tale for other cities and countries who do not prioritize the health of their citizens.  The film is nominated for Best Documentary and Best International Feature in the 2021 Academy Awards.




Magnolia Pictures

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