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Daily Helping for September 19th, 2021 – Angels – Tedy Ursuleanu and Alex Csiki

A photo from the series Angels by Alex Csiki as featured in the film Collective. The photo is of Tedy Ursuleanu, a survivor of the Colectiv nightclub fire, kneeling on the ground and using her badly burned arms to hug her clothing to herself.

On October 30th, 2015, a fire broke out in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania. 64 people were killed and another 146 were injured. It was a horrific tragedy that led to mass protests across the country against the corruption in the government that was believed to have led to the fire. Less than a week later, the government and Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned. However, this was not the end of the story.

Collective is a documentary that followed the aftermath of the fire. Reporters from Gazeta Sporturilor, a sports publication of all things, were suspicious about the high number of victims who died in hospital. 26 victims of the fire died on site, while 38 died in hospital. Some of them died months after the event. After investing the story, reporters discovered that most of the victims had died from bacterial infections, something to which burn victims are particularly susceptible. Further investigation revealed that the anti-bacterial products used at the hospitals had been diluted by the manufacturer in an effort to save money. They had been diluted to the point that they were practically useless.

When the paper published this report, the resulting scandal led to the resignation of the Health Minister. A young and idealistic politician named Vlad Voiculescu was appointed as the new one. Remarkably, the documentary filmmakers had access to both the reporters and Voiculescu, and the film traces the subsequent investigation that revealed the true depth of the corruption in the Romanian health care system.

It needs to be said that Collective is an astonishing film. I urge everyone to watch it, and not just because it reinforces just how important journalists are today. But because it contains one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen captured on film. In a scene where Voiculescu is meeting with a whistleblower, you watch as he becomes more and more visibly overwhelmed as her words sink in. This is a man who seems to genuinely want to make things better and do right by the people he’s sworn to serve. But there is a moment when the enormity of the problem finally hits him and he sits back in his chair, stunned. When he finally finds his words, all he can say is, “Then how the hell do we fix this?” The despair in his voice is chilling. I know I will never forget this scene for as long as I live.

Because Collective is not a film about a Romanian problem. This is a universal story that plagues every single country in the world. The events of the past year and half have proven again and again that the systems we rely on every day are broken. They are not serving the people. They are serving the few. And it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all. I mean, I think to myself on a near daily basis, “How the hell do we fix all this?” I don’t have an answer, but I do know we have to keep trying. Otherwise we all run the risk of being crushed.

Collective features several survivors of the fire and the ways that night irrevocably changed their lives. One survivor, Tedy Ursuleanu, turned to art. She was photographed by Alex Csiki for a series of photographs that are simultaneously beautiful, horrifying, and defiant. Looking at these photos, I’m in awe of Ursuleanu’s courage to reveal herself so openly. I hope that this project brought her comfort. Healing. At the very least, I hope it has helped her to move forward. In whatever form that may take. And I hope for the same for all of the other victims and their families. These photos are both a testament to her resilience, and a reminder of what happens when people in positions of power break public trust in pursuit of their own selfish gains. Of how something as simple as diluting anti-bacterial products to save money can have deadly consequences on innocent lives.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!