Film on reporters who exposed Romanian fire scandal hailed

Film on reporters who exposed Romanian fire scandal hailed
Film on reporters who exposed Romanian fire scandal hailed

A devastating new documentary has shown how corruption and incompetence in Romania's health system led to the needless deaths of many of the survivors of the country's worst nightclub fire.

Sixty-four people died in the blaze at the Colectiv club in the capital Bucharest after a pyrotechnics display during a heavy rock concert in October 2015 set fire to the building.

Outrage over the tragedy brought down the country's government led by Victor Ponta.

Now a film at the Venice film festival -- which critics compared Wednesday to the Oscar-winning "Spotlight" -- reveals how many of the young victims need not have perished if the system had not been so rotten.

"Colectiv", which some of the survivors helped to make, followed the investigative reporters on Romanian sports newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor as they the exposed the scandal.

Journalist Catalin Tolontan and his colleagues uncovered a web of corruption, bribery and embezzlement when they began probing why 37 people who had initially survived the flames and fumes died of bacterial infections contracted in hospitals.

It led to the discovery that an antiseptic produced by a local company was diluted in the factory, and a litany of other horrific incidences of negligence and cover-ups.

Director Alexander Nanau said many died because the authorities delayed for days sending survivors abroad for treatment.

- Lies and corruption -

While officials said "Romania could take care of the 180 burns victims", whistleblowing doctors revealed that "they could not take care of one".

He said the reporters also found that patients airlifted abroad were sent with misleading or downright false notes.

"The biggest lie was when the authorities started to panic and they started to transfer everybody and lied in the notes. They did not write that the patients were already infected," the director added.

Nanau said he started to film the investigation "blindly, and before we knew it we were in the vortex of filming this incredible network of corruption that came out of the health system."

Tolontan told reporters at Venice that at first he was "very hostile to the idea of being filmed in a newsroom.

"You are supposed to be in a safe environment and it is our duty almost to work in secret."

But over the year the film took, trust built despite "some black days" when tempers frayed.

Tolontan said sometimes it was hard to "see the line between incompetence and corruption in our hospitals. There is also a lot of ignorance."

Tedy Ursuleanu, a young woman who has had to be fitted with a bionic hand in Scotland because of her injuries, and who since become a glamorous figurehead for the survivors, said truth was need for change to happen.

Nanau said the corruption the documentary highlights goes way beyond Romania and Eastern Europe, and said every time Tolontan and his team would "reveal the truth a minister would go on television to say this was fake news".

"We wanted to wanted to understand the balance between journalism and society... and how can the free press stand up to the authorities."