'Collective' details journalism's role in rooting out corruption

Brad Keefe

Oh, wow. I needed that.

After the past four or eight or really 20 years, I needed a movie that validated the reason I attended the prestigious E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. And thankfully I can call that school prestigious again because in 2016 and under pressure, Scripps removed 1962 alum Roger Ailes from his connection with the institution, where he learned the tenets of journalism and then destroyed them forever in his time at Fox News.

To be clear, Ailes is dead, and that’s good for the future of journalism. Which somehow brings me to my movie review this week, the documentary “Collective.”

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This movie explains why young Brad wanted to be a journalist, and this is why the profession still matters now, even if I’m just the award-winning movie critic for the award-winning and now online-onlyColumbus Alive (support good journalism with your dollars, y’all).

“Collective” is an amazing documentary, but it’s not necessarily a matter of craft. It’s a matter of access. The film centers around a fatal 2015 fire at a nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, which erupts during a set from a metalcore band. The tragic occurrence is captured on video, and the footage is hard to watch, especially if you miss crowded club shows as much as I do.

The club, Colectiv, was engulfed in fire, and the terrifying, immediate spread eventually killed 64 people. But “Collective” is particularly relevant because it goes far deeper than that night, uncovering a massive corruption within the Romanian health care system that amplified the fire’s death toll. These were deaths that didn’t need to occur, and that would have gone overlooked absent the work of journalists.

Romanian director Alexander Nanau stumbled into a great documentary, even if he initially had no idea what his cameras were capturing. By filming these moments far before anyone could know how they would play out, he makes one of the best cases for journalism.

Reporters from unlikely publications, led by Catalin Tolontan at the ostensibly sports-focusedSports Gazette, doggedly uncover corruption that runs through Big Pharma and the elected Social Democrat party in Romania. It’s not a story about a nightclub fire. It’s a story about the corruption that led to burn victims dying because of a pharma company that diluted it’s product in the name of profit and at the expense of human life.

“Collective” captures  both the hard work of journalism and, in its second half, the efforts of good people who attempt to reform a corrupt government, which can feel like a hopeless undertaking.

It’s one of the most essential films about journalism and it couldn’t be more timely.


Now streaming on VOD, including the virtual screening rooms at gatewayfilmcenter.org

4 stars out of 5