There’s a funny saying I rather like: “First they came for the journalists and I did nothing; then we don’t know what happened next.” Maybe the word is actually “maudlin,” but still, America is one of the few places where the press is so strongly woven into the very fabric of society that, while being the only job expressly noted in the Constitution, it is often taken for granted. But this isn’t a story about the American press—it’s the tale of the small Romanian paper Gazeta Sporturilor which, in 2016, uncovered a shocking conspiracy within the country’s healthcare system.
In 2019′s Collective (or Collectiv, if you like), filmmaker Alexander Nanau follows the sports (yes, sports) paper’s then-editor Catalin Tolontan and his small team as they come to learn about shady hospital dealings across Romania. In 2015, the Romanian nightclub Collectiv caught fire during a show. That night, over two dozen in the audience were killed, and over two dozen more died of infections in the weeks that followed due to absurdly lacking policies in Romanian hospitals. At first, it seems as simple as shady mob deals and hospital managers diluting disinfectants to a horrifying degree, but as Tolontan and company dig deeper into the issue and reveal more to the story, murder, governmental shifts and systemic failures come to a head, and the country itself is forever changed.
Full disclosure: We like movies about investigative journalism, but Nanau’s look at Gazeta Sporturilor’s herculean efforts goes beyond mere insights into how the press is valuable and shows us the results of difficult reporting. Nanau hits it from three main angles—the paper’s day-to-day reporting on the issue; the fire’s surviving victims and the families of the dead; and newly-appointed Minister of Health Vlad Voiculescu, a former patient’s rights activist who, in perhaps one of the more shocking twists in the film, actually cares about the Romanian people.
Through whistleblower doctors, gut-wrenching footage of the fire and hospital conditions, we observe how the very country itself changes. A small team did that, and it’s important for everyone—from everyday people to journalists themselves, even in small towns—to understand what can come from an unwavering dedication to the truth and transparency. There simply is no overstating how important the press can be, and Nanau’s dive into what it takes to make that a reality—especially as it applies to the people’s right to know what their government is doing—is nearly flawless in execution.
The Center for Contemporary Arts makes Collective available to stream this week in the lead-up to a virtual panel discussion on the importance of investigative journalism on Monday, May 3 at 7 pm—World Press Freedom Day. The panel features Tina Susman, senior editor for Time, Searchlight New Mexico editor Sara Solovitch and Collective editing consultant Mona Mona Nicoară and runs $12. Visit ccasantafe.org to register.
+Journalism! Ethics! Systemic change!
-Some might find it dry
Directed by Nanau
CCA, NR, 99 min.