Indifference Kills

‘Colectiv’ directed by Alexander Nanau (Romania, Luxemburg 2019)

‘Colectiv’ opens the 24th edition of London Human Rights Watch Film Festival (LHRWFF) on 12 March 2020,

Review by Khalid Ali, film and media correspondent ‘Medical Humanities’ online blogs

In its 24th edition the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival (LFFHRW) comes back to the UK armed with 14 films exploring the physical and mental well-being of subjects exposed to political and social injustice around the world. This year’s impressive line-up of mostly documentary films tells stories of activism and courage from 14 countries: Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Guatemala, Germany, Iran, Macedonia, Mexico, Peru, Romania, the United States of America and Vietnam. These films embrace the vision of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) group of ‘investigating, exposing, and advocating for change’ in cases of abuse of human rights. John Biaggi (director of the HRWFF) praises the London opening night film ‘Colectiv’ by saying: ‘’Journalism has been under increasing assault these past few years. Alexander Nanau’s documentary highlights the resilience and challenges of good journalism in advancing human rights’’

‘Colectiv’ is the name of a nightclub in Bucharest where a raging fire claimed 27 lives on 30 October 2015. Thirty-seven injured victims later died in a specialist burn unit from overwhelming sepsis. Those who survived the ordeal of the fire and poor hospital treatment suffered long-lasting traumas. The film follows Cătălin Tolontan, a journalist in sports newspaper ‘Gazeta Sporturilor’, and his team of investigators trying to identify the cause of the tragic loss of human lives in ‘a specialist unit’ claimed to have comparable expertise to the best burn units in Germany. Pursuing epidemiological clues and testimonials from ‘whistle-blowers’ in various hospitals, Tolontan’s team discover a convoluted web of organised crime and corruption involving hospital managers and senior doctors. An ineffective dilute disinfectant sold to a network of hospitals by a shady businessman is linked to the failing hygiene measures that resulted in potentially avoidable deaths.

Widespread demonstrations demanding justice and transparency resulted in collapse of the government led by the Social Democratic Party. A new health minister, Vlad Voiculescu, is appointed; he allows the journalist team led by Tolontan unprecedented access to his cabinet meetings and negotiations with senior healthcare officials and government ministers.

Cătălin Tolontan and his assistant sifting through evidence of government corruption
Cătălin Tolontan and his assistant sifting through evidence of government corruption


In addition to documenting heated indoor ministerial meetings, the director also follows the recovery journey of Tedy Ursuleanu, a survivor of the Colectiv fire. She channels her trauma into personal art work exhibited in major galleries sharing her own physical and psychological transformation as a burn victim.

One can only respect and admire the film team led by Alexander Nanau for their unwavering search for the truth spearheaded by Voiculescu and Tolontan, the health minister and journalist working in collaboration to expose a ‘mafia’ that is spreading its criminal activities into several government bodies. However both men pay a hefty price for their quest for justice, Tolontan is publicly challenged in TV shows and branded a ‘sensationalist journalist’, while Voiculescu is viciously attacked by Bucharest Mayor Gabriela Firea labelling him ‘enemy of the people’ for wasting precious resources by abolishing lung transplant operations in units whose accreditation is fraudulent. The war continues between the opposing groups culminating in a new round of elections with disappointing results. In such a tale of seeking justice from a government corrupt to the core, one should not expect easy answers or happy endings. The lingering message that remains with the audience is that ‘no one can afford to remain silent in the face of such prevalent corruption as indifference kills.’

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