Perhaps documentaries just got more
attention in 2020 because so many fictional films had stillborn releases because of covid.
Some of the good to great docs I had the pleasure of seeing this year have included:
of the Humans (about the lies told by both the left and right regarding climate
change), My Octopus Teacher (about the unlikely close friendship between a
mollusk and a human),
Riot (about the anti-racist movement in 70s UK punk rock movement),
Johnson is Dead (about a dying man suffering from dementia ). My Social Dilemma
(about how social media is changing how we think), House of Cardin (about the
late fashion designer) and
Under Control (about how Trumpian policies exacerbated the covid epidemic in the
I have not seen some of the most acclaimed ones, including
Utopia, City Front, The Go Go's or Crip
But the best one that I've had the pleasure of watching was a highly touted film
which was selected as the Romanian entry for Best International Feature at the
93rd Academy Awards.
Control is about a blaze that occurred in October 15, 2015 which was made much
worse by the extreme corruption of the pharmaceutical and medical industries in that
The fire which occurred in a dance club called "Colectiv" (the title is an
Americanization of the club name) ended up taking the lives of 27 people and
injuring 180. The club had no fire exit as was legally required (someone was
probably bribed) and people trampled over each other to escape. A journalistic
investigation brought about certain terrible realities about the way the health
care system was run there.
The film’s title is also somewhat ironic because the main players in the health
care system never worked together well as a collective for the benefit of their
patients: they all just seemed to be following their own greed and
self-interest. Within four months of the catastrophe, another 37 people died
because of the ineptness of the health care system. The whole story was
journalist named Catalin Tolontan to put together a team to do an extensive
His team hears outrageous stories about how most of the patients died of
infections rather then burns. The hospitals were using disinfectants that were
so diluted that (only 10% active ingredients instead of the 90% as the bottles
indicated) they were utterly ineffective, and the doctors were using infected
scalpels on the patients, so that the corrupt pharmaceutical industry (Hexi Pharma)
could get richer. Then the manufacturers bribed the politicians in power so they
could stay in business without incident.
An article is published in the Gazette and it is eventually revealed that the
corruption and callousness go much deeper than anyone even suspected, and it led
to the whole ruling party, the Social Democrats losing their dominance in
The film is more than just an expose of reprehensible government corruption. It
is as much about the journalistic process (which has taken some hard knocks
over the last decade) as much as such classic investigative films as Spotlight and All
the President’s Men. We see the editors putting increasing demands on the
journalists when they get hungry for a headline, conscientious conversations in
conference rooms, and newspaper writers slaving over their PC’s to get the truth
out at considerable risk.
The stuff they uncover is horrifying. Footage shows a patient with a wound
filled with maggots that eventually killed him because no hospital personnel
could be bothered to clean him in the whole week he was there. A patient who was
still breathing was covered up and treated as if he were dead even though he was
still breathing. A mayor who has ties to the corruption is found dead before he
gets a chance to testify. After the health care minister is deposed, the new
chief Vlad (a conscientious former health care advocate) encounters seemingly
insurmountable walls of corruption. And even after everyone knew that the
disinfectants were diluted and useless, they were still used and there was no
legal mechanism to take them quickly off the shelves.
It ends just as it began, with a man weeping over his dead son. Audience
members will find it difficult not to feel sick at the depths people will sink
to and how many people have to die so that a few bureaucrats and corporate execs
can make a little extra profit.
Collective paints a very dark portrait of the institutions we rely on most for
protection which often put their own preservation above everything including
their patient’s lives . But without correctives like this film and hard-hitting
journalism there is little help that the situation will ever get better.