Review: ‘Collective,’ starring Catalin Tolontan, Patriciu Achimaș-Cadariu, Camelia Roiu and Tedy Ursuleanu

November 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Catalin Tolontan in “Collective” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)


Directed by Alexander Nanau

Romanian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Romania, the documentary “Collective” features an all-white group of people (journalists, bureaucrats, politicians, and parents of burn victims) discussing the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire in 2015 that resulted in numerous deaths, injuries, and the exposing of widespread corruption in the Romanian health-care industry.

Culture Clash: The documentary follows some intrepid reporters who uncover the corruption and the tumultuous transition when a new minister of health takes over in Romania.

Culture Audience: “Collective” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries that are about health care, corruption and freedom of the press.

Tedy Ursuleanu in “Collective” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

In 2015, a tragic nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania, became the catalyst for a news investigation that would turn the Romanian health-care industry upside down. The investigation led to the exposure of widespread corruption, public outrage, and a controversial leadership change in Romania’s health-care industry. The gripping documentary “Collective” gives an inside look at how it all happened (directed by Alexander Nanau), but it also serves as a warning that the corruption isn’t going away just because some of it was uncovered.

The Colectiv nightclub was an underground club for rock music that was frequented by mostly young people. When the fire happened at Colectiv (the Romanian word for “collective”) in 2015, many people were trapped in the venue, which did not having adequate fire exists. The documentary includes a disturbing video taken inside the nightclub as the fire spread.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, 27 people died and 180 people were injured. However, over the next four months, 37 more victims from the fire died in hospitals. While all of this was happening, officials would routinely give press conference and interviews assuring the fire victims’ loved ones and the general public that these patients were getting the best possible care. What happened to cause these additional deaths?

During the course of the movie, investigative journalists—led by Catalin Tolontan of the daily newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor (Sports Gazette)—found out that these burn victims weren’t dying from their burn wounds but were actually dying from infections brought on by unsanitary hospitals. In addition, medicine and disinfectants were being deliberately diluted. The business leader of Hexi Pharma, the company at the center of the scandal, then mysteriously disappears. And more lies and corruption are uncovered on a massive scale that goes behind hospitals in Bucharest.

The scandal has been widely reported in Romania and in other countries, but for people who don’t know about it, some of the details that are in “Collective” won’t be revealed in this review. However, it’s enough to say that the movie presents a well-rounded story that shows perspectives from victims of the fire, their family members, journalists, bureaucrats and politicians who are connected in some way to this multifaceted tragedy.

During the course of making this documentary, Romanian health minister Vlad Voiculescu resigned. (He was in the position from May to December 2016.) And then, physician Patriciu Achimaș-Cadariu became Romania’s health minister and experienced a lot of public backlash after he tried to reform the system and hold the Romanian health-care system up to higher standards. Achimaș-Cadariu was also vilified by certain media outlets that accused him of causing public hysteria over the Romanian health-care system.

Why the public backlash against Achimaș-Cadariu? Because he believed that many Romanian hospitals were ill-equipped and too unsanitary for certain medical procedures, such as transplant surgery. Many people who needed these medical procedures were inconvenienced and horrified by the thought of possibly having to go to another country (such as Germany) to get the procedures done.

“Collective” takes a hard look at the power of propaganda and how much people might believe what leaders say if the leaders say it often enough. After being told for years that Romanian hospitals were safe and among the best in Europe, a large percentage of the Romanian public refused to believe that their hospitals actually had dangerous levels of unsanitary conditions. Unfortunately, it took the Colectiv nightclub fire and the large number of the fire victims who were hospitalized at once for it to be discovered that people who should’ve recovered from their injuries were actually placed in lethal situations in the hospitals.

One thing that might surprise viewers of “Collective” is how much access the filmmakers had to closed-door meetings with Achimaș-Cadariu. This isn’t the kind of investigative documentary that shows a lot of loud protests in the streets to call for change and reform. Nor are there any dramatic courtroom scenes. Instead, there are many scenes of quiet discussions in conference rooms to give testimonials about corruption and to advocate for reform in the Romanian health-care system.

In the production notes for “Collective,” director Nanau explains how he got to film Achimaș-Cadariu in such an unrestricted way: “So he had the courage to let me film him. And we made this deal that I would handle sound and camera [myself] while at the Ministry—and in return I could film everything and he would not tell me ‘shut the camera off.'”

Nanau filmed the documentary cinéma vérité-style, so there are no interviews talking heads or voiceovers as distractions. It’s really the best way to film this type of subject matter because it allows viewers to better see all the tension as events are unfolding and let viewers judge for themselves who is more trustworthy than others.

Interviews with talking heads tend to be about pundits giving their hindsight take on a situation where they might exaggerate how much they really knew or how effective they were as the situation was happening. People often like to rewrite history when they tell their version of events. But there’s really no room to do that in a documentary that doesn’t do interviews with talking heads.

And although this health-care scandal in Romania is a tangled web of corruption, “Collective” doesn’t over-stuff the movie with too many people. It keeps things simple by focusing on some of the most impactful participants in this saga. Two of the most memorable “whistleblowers” are Colectiv fire survivor Tedy Ursuleanu (whose burn injuries resulted in some of her fingers being removed) and Camelia Roiu, an anesthetist at Bucharest Burn Hospital who came forward about the real causes of death of the Colectiv fire patients who died in the months after the fire.

In the “Collective” production notes, director Nanau says he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the whistleblowers are women: “In Romania, women have evolved a lot more than men in society. I think they have a higher moral standard. And they have more courage.”

“Collective” shows that courage sometimes means uncovering disturbing truths about a system, such as health care, that has the power to determine if people will live or die. It’s a movie that will make people wonder about these situations not just in Romania but also in other countries. And it’s a sobering reminder that many innocent people’s lives were lost because certain people were invested in keeping a corrupt system in place.

Magnolia Pictures released “Collective” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 20, 2020.

2020 DOC NYC: jury awards announced; festival extended for 10 more days

The following is a press release from DOC NYC:

DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, revealed the 2020 award winners for its juried Viewfinders, Metropolis, Shorts, Short List: Features, and Short List: Shorts sections. 
The festival also announced that, for the first time ever, DOC NYC will extend its program for an additional 10-day DOC NYC Encore, running through Sunday, November 29. Available online to audiences throughout the United States, the Encore program will present more than 70 features from DOC NYC’s 2020 edition, including select award winners, while also continuing to offer new DOC NYC Live filmmaker conversations, presented on Facebook Live, daily November 20-24. For a lineup of DOC NYC Live events and a list of Encore films, see Ticket and pass information is below.
For DOC NYC’s competitive sections, three juries selected films from the festival’s Viewfinders, Metropolis, and Shorts lineups to recognize for their outstanding achievements in form and content. The Short List: Features program—a selection of nonfiction films that the festival’s programming team considers to be among the year’s strongest contenders for Oscars and other awards—vied for awards in four categories: Directing, Producing, Cinematography, and Editing, with a Directing prize also awarded in the Short List: Shorts section. The Short List awards were voted on by two juries of filmmaker peers.
Winners of the 2020 Grand Jury Prize in the Viewfinders, Metropolis, and Shorts competitions will receive a deliverables package provided by Technicolor PostWorks NY, a comprehensive post facility offering data and film workflows, multi-format conform, color grading, sound mixing, and digital cinema.
Winners of the 2020 Grand Jury Prize in the Viewfinders and Metropolis competitions will also receive a camera loan package provided by Sony, a leading manufacturer of digital cinema cameras to fit all levels of documentary production.
Voting for the festival’s Audience Award continues through November 19; the winner of the award will be announced shortly after voting closes.
Viewfinders CompetitionThe jury selected from among 11 films in this section, chosen by festival programmers for their distinct directorial visions.

Grand Jury Prize: Landfall, directed/produced by Cecilia Aldarondo and produced by Ines Hofmann Kanna


Jurors’ statement: “For its piercing yet poetic observational gaze, rigorous control in illuminating complex issues and the logics of disaster capitalism, and collaborative production with local activists, Landfall is the Grand Jury Winner of the Viewfinders Competition. The ambitious scope of this film transcends humanitarian narratives in weaving together present, past, and future visions of solidarity and resistance.”

Special Jury Recognition for Ethics of Care: Through the Night, directed/produced by Loira Limbal and produced by Jameka Autry

Jurors’ statement: “For its exceptional attention to the lived experience of caregivers, intimate narrativization with dignity, and fully inclusive approach to concretely uplifting the stories of its protagonists, Through the Night receives the Special Jury Recognition for its exemplary Ethics of Care.”

Jurors: Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director, International Documentary Association; Jolene Pinder, former Executive Director, Kartemquin Films; Abby Sun, Curator, The DocYard.

Films featured in the Viewfinders section: 40 Years a Prisoner, A La Calle, Enemies of the State, Jacinta, Landfall, The Meaning of Hitler, So Late So Soon, Stateless, Things We Dare Not Do, Through the Night, andThe Viewing Booth.

Metropolis Competition: The jury selected from among ten films in this section, which is dedicated to stories about New Yorkers and New York City.

Grand Jury Prize: Five Years North, directed by Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple and produced by Jenna Kelly

“Five Years North” (Photo by Chris Temple)

Jurors’ statement: “For its use of a keen empathetic eye to capture individual stories and its ability to blend them to create a multi-dimensional, far-reaching portrait of a pressing issue, we recognize Five Years North with the Grand Jury Prize. The prolonged filming period not only shows the patience and dedication of its filmmakers, but reveals the nuance and complexities of the participants’ lives and stories.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Best Use of Archival Material: Wojnarowicz, directed and produced by Chris McKim and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

Jurors’ statement: “For its meticulous use of archival elements to enliven a life and its work, we recognize Wojnarowicz with a special jury recognition. The craft of the film beautifully mirrors the melding of life, art, politics, and the culture of New York City that defined its subject.” 

Jurors: Clayton Davis, Film Awards Editor, Variety; Rachel Rosen, Selection Committee, New York Film Festival; Sky Sitney, Co-Creator/Co-Director, Double Exposure Film Festival/Director, Film and Media Studies Program at Georgetown University

Films featured in the Metropolis section: Blue Code of Silence, Calendar Girl, Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters, A Cops and Robbers Story, Dope Is Death, Five Years North, Harlem Rising: A Community Changing the Odds, La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padilla, Moments Like This Never Last, and Wojnarowicz.

Shorts Competition: All new short films playing at the festival were eligible for the Shorts Grand Jury Prize, with the exception of DOC NYC U showcases and Short List: Shorts selections.

Shorts Grand Jury Prize: Sing Me a Lullaby, directed/produced by Tiffany Hsiung

“Sing Me a Lullabye” (Photo by Jason Lee Wong)

Jurors’ statement: “For its ability to evoke an emotional depth that takes you on an intimate journey that is both poignant and packs a punch, we give the Shorts Grand Jury Prize to Sing Me a Lullaby. In a brisk half hour, director Tiffany Hsiung navigates several complex lifetimes, honoring the relationships of mothers, daughters, and family.”

Special Jury Recognition for Cinematography: The Seeker, directed by Lance Edmands and produced by Kyle Martin and Sarah Tihany

Jurors’ statement: “For beautifully capturing its richly textured landscapes, transporting us to a seldom-seen experience, and propelling the storytelling in an impactful way, we present the Special Jury Recognition for Cinematography to The Seeker.”

The 2020 winning Short film qualifies for consideration in the Documentary Short Subject category of the Annual Academy Awards® without the standard theatrical run (provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules).

Jurors: Jackie Glover, Head of Documentary, ABC News; Liliana Rodriguez, Artistic Director, Palm Springs International Film Society; Angela Tucker, filmmaker

Short List: Features: DOC NYC’s Short List for Features puts the spotlight on 15 documentaries representing the best of the year. 

Directing Award: Timedirected by Garrett Bradley

“Time” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Jurors’ statement: “The jurors were moved by this stunning, longitudinal portrait of a family through time. Bradley’s direction and lens infuses this film with dignity, art, intimacy, memory, and meaning. Documentary filmmaking at its best!”

Producing Award: Welcome to Chechnya, produced by Alice Henty, Joy A. Tomchin, Askold Kurov, and David France

“Welcome to Chechnya” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Jurors’ statement: “The jury is proud to acknowledge the delicate touch, human care and creative gymnastics necessary to produce this powerful film. The filmmakers gained access to this dangerous world in which the film’s subjects took great risks, and then used innovative technology to protect them, allowing these men and women to share their heartbreaking stories and inspirational acts of bravery with the world. Hats off.”

Editing Award: Boys State, edited by Jeff Gilbert

“Boys State” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Jurors’ statement: “The jury recognizes Jeff Gilbert for delivering an expertly crafted story that is both infused with great momentum and intimacy. Jeff has masterfully shaped an engaging and well-paced film that sneaks up on the audience and reveals a metaphor for the world of American politics on the big stage.” 

Cinematography Award: 76 Days, cinematography by Weixi Chen and Anonymous

“76 Days” (Photo courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)

Jurors’ statement: “The jurors wish to shine a light on Anonymous and Weixi Chen for risking their lives to make this film in the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan, China. In harrowing circumstances, these two brave and determined individuals achieve beautifully executed verite footage and moving compositions, bringing this hospital and its unforgettable staff into stark relief.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Truth to Power: Collective, directed/produced by Alexander Nanau and produced by Bianca Oana, Bernard Michaux, and Hanka Kastelicová

“Collective” (Photo by Alexander Nanau Production/Magnolia Pictures)

Jurors’ statement: “Kudos to the vision and tenacity of the film team that was able to elegantly realize this powerful portrait of a newspaper as it exposes a corrupt healthcare system and the influence of politics on the lives of Romanians. We deeply admire the formidable structure, attention to detail, remarkable access, and the fearlessness and determination of the filmmakers and their protagonists toward speaking truth to rotten power.” 

Jurors: Heidi Ewing, filmmaker; Carla Gutierrez, film editor; Beth Levison, filmmaker

Short List: Shorts: DOC NYC’s Short List for Shorts highlights 12 documentary shorts that the festival’s programming team considers the year’s leading awards contenders. 

Directing Award: A Love Song for Latasha, directed by Sophia Nahli Allison

“A Love Song for Latasha” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Jurors’ statement: “Director Sophia Nahli Allison implements a remarkable marriage of distinct vision and personal narrative. The jury is deeply moved by the bold and imaginative employment of elements to make visible to the world what so many forces have connived to make disappear. The place of one young woman in her community, her family, her friends – to make a personal story emotionally rich, relatable, and resonant for all audiences. Sophia Nahli Allison showed a director’s determination to use every element to bring her vision, her passion, and her community to the screen.”

Special Jury Recognition for Courage under Fire: Do Not Split, directed/produced by Andres Hammer and produced by Charlotte Cook

Jurors’ statement: “The jury could not ignore the tremendous tenacity and courage it took to turn such perilous events into a greater political narrative. We recognize the courage to capture the chaos as great events unfold in the individual and collective acts of resistance. We give this award for both the courage in production and the bravery of its final form and applaud the success of this endeavor.”

Jurors: Carol Dysinger, filmmaker; Chiemi Karasawa, filmmaker; Bernardo Ruiz, filmmaker

Ticket and pass information:
An Encore All Access Pass, offering access to all films screening on the festival platform November 20-29, is available for $99.

Individual tickets are $12 each ($9 for IFC Center members).

Five-Ticket Packs are​ ​$45​, offering film lovers access to five festival selections. 

Ten-Ticket Packs​ ​are​ ​$80​, and provide access to ten festival films.

Tickets and passes can be purchased at


DOC NYC is made possible by:

Major Sponsors: A&E; Apple Original Films; Netflix, WarnerMedia

Leading Media Partners: New York Magazine; The WNET Group

Supporting Sponsors: National Geographic Documentary Films; SHOWTIME® Documentary Films

Signature Sponsors: Bloomberg Philanthropies; NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; Participant; Technicolor PostWorks NY; Topic Studios

Signature Media Partners:The New Republic; WNYC

Event Sponsors: Consulate General of Canada in New York; Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP; 30 for 30; Fox Rothschild LLP; Hulu; Impact Partners; JustFilms | Ford Foundation; MTV Documentary Films; Reavis Page Jump LLP; Shutterstock Editorial; Sony; SVA’s MFA Social Documentary Film; Wheelhouse Creative; XTR

Friend of the Festival: CineSend

DOC NYC is produced and presented by IFC Center, a division of AMC Networks.

Complete DOC NYC program information can be found at:

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix