Nominated for the last Oscars, the documentary L’Affaire Collective by Alexander Nanau looks back on the fire at the Colectiv Club nightclub in Bucharest on October 30, 2015. This shocking film hits theaters today. Meeting with the director.
After being presented at the 76th Venice Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, and represented Romania at the last Oscars in the categories Best Documentary and Best International Film (a premiere for a Romanian film), Alexander Nanau’s documentary, The Collective Affair is released today in our theaters.
Without interviews and voice-overs, this film has nothing to envy of the most prestigious political thrillers.
The Romanian director is interested here in the fire at the Colectiv Club nightclub in Bucharest on October 30, 2015. Many victims die in hospitals from injuries that should not have put their lives in danger.
Following the testimony of a doctor, a team of investigative journalists from the Sports Gazette takes action to denounce the massive corruption of the public health system.
The feature film follows these whistleblowers and the government officials involved, and takes an uncompromising look at corruption and the price to be paid for the truth.
The Collective Affair is an exciting and scary film that will keep you going for 1 hour 45 minutes and never leave you indifferent. Journalists uncover an unprecedented health and political scandal within the European Union.
We were able to talk to director Alexander Nanau to whom we owe the documentaries Toto et ses sœurs and Nothingwood.
AlloCiné: You started to devote yourself to this subject immediately after the Colectiv Club drama. Why did you want to work on this national tragedy?
Alexander Nanau : The protests of the younger generation that took place after the fire were seen as a turning point in Romanian society. It was the first time since the revolution of 1989 that so many people had taken to the streets. I felt the need to understand what was really going on in this young democracy.
At the same time, politicians and doctors began to lie and manipulate everyone by claiming that they could take care of the victims of the Colectiv fire and that the Romanian healthcare system was the best.
As more and more burned young people started dying in hospitals, it was clear that something was wrong at all and that we were witnessing enormous manipulation by those in power.
I also wanted to make a film to understand how power works. I wondered who these corrupt and incompetent people really are, able to use their power to lie and let people die. Why are they doing this?
Journalists from the Gazeta Sporturilor who work alongside Cătălin Tolontan have started investigating the health system. So we thought that for this observation documentary, it would be a good thing to follow the work of these journalists who investigate power and the health system.
Initially, they refused to let us follow them in their investigation because they did not want to expose their work and the way they get information, nor put whistleblowers at risk.
I could not imagine this corruption and inhumanity that reigns within the health system.
When you started working on this case, did you imagine the scale it would take?
Alexander Nanau : Never ! I could not imagine this corruption and inhumanity that reigns within the health system and in the highest political circles. It was like watching Hannah Arendt’s “The Banality of Evil” in real time in our society.
At the time, there were no journalists really specialized in health care in Romania and the press as a whole did not know how to ask the right questions when faced with the manipulation of the health authorities.
Although originally sports journalists, Cătălin Tolontan and Mirela Neag were known and feared as investigative journalists capable of bringing down politicians. The whistleblowers decided to go to them because most of the mainstream media is partisan and doesn’t really investigate power.
I would say that is more what we discovered during this investigation. It was a question I was asking myself and the way our lives are governed and endangered by politicians and health officials is a truth that was not easy to digest when we saw the scale of manipulation.
The pace of the film is similar to the pace of the investigation, revelations and battles we have witnessed between politicians and journalists.
I think the form and storytelling of a movie matches the way you felt things as they were happening and is also very influenced by the characters and the lives that you film. You film and edit things as you feel them. You translate reality as you experience it in the cinema.
Editing was difficult because a lot of complex information had to be made understandable while remaining true to the facts.
Have things changed in Romania, especially in hospitals, since this scandal?
Unfortunately not really. What has changed is that people no longer accept things and NGOs have started to build hospitals with private donations from citizens.
The music group Metallica donated 250,000 euros to a hospital built by civil society. People can’t stand incompetence and corruption anymore and take matters into their own hands.
For me, it is important that the cinema builds a very private relationship with each spectator. I don’t make films to change things, but because I want to understand and show things. What the viewer does with it is their decision. But, since its launch, the film has had a definite impact in Romania and around the world.
We have found that people all over the world identify with the film as if it is about them and their company, not Romanian society. I think we all share the fear that those in power will not protect us and try to silence the press and, with it, the truth.
Corruption is perhaps the greatest threat to our democracies.
The gap is growing between what people demand of their leaders and what they actually do. Corruption is perhaps the greatest threat to our democracies today. We see it in France where a former President is accused of corruption and this is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.
Likewise, since the pandemic, we have sensed what happens when health systems are overburdened and corrupt and incompetent officials take advantage of the crisis to enrich themselves and put lives at risk.
In Romania, L’Affaire Collective has become the film of a generation that sees it as the story that marks a point of no return in Romanian society. After the film was launched in Romania, the number of whistleblowers who spoke to the press exploded.