Alexander Nanau, the director of acclaimed Romanian documentary “Collective,” has rejected a medal from the country’s president and slammed the government for failing the cultural sector during the coronavirus crisis.
Nanau’s hard-hitting investigative documentary centers on the 2015 fire at the Colectiv nightclub that killed 64 people and injured hundreds, detailing the health care crisis and political corruption within the Romanian government that contributed to the tragedy.
The film was selected in October by the Romanian Film Centre/CNC Romania (RFC) as the country’s official Oscar entry for the best international feature category. The doc is considered a frontrunner to earn a nomination there, as well as in the best documentary feature category, where AMPAS documentary branch members hold it in high esteem.
As Romania prepares to celebrate National Culture Day this Friday (Jan. 15), Nanau was informed that the country’s president, Klaus Werner Iohannis, would be awarding the filmmaker the ‘Cultural Merit’ medal, in recognition of the movie’s breakout success.
But Nanau has rejected the award with a scathing letter, accusing the government of hypocrisy, having failed the cultural sector when it needed support the most, as many of Romania’s arts institutions now face financial ruin in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nanau tells Variety: “The cultural sector in Romania is basically on the brink of bankruptcy because, in comparison with other European states, [the government] did not implement any mechanism to save Romanian culture, [which includes] independent theaters, actors, and most of all, the cinema industry.
“So, it would be very wrong, from my side, to go and let them pin a medal on my chest, effectively saying that, ‘Actually, Romanian culture is doing fine.’ It wouldn’t be fair towards my colleagues. Especially after, you know…I did a film about how the state crushes its citizens.”
As an example of the problems besetting the Romanian biz, he highlights the fact that the RFC, which is obliged by law to have two financing rounds per year, had none in 2020.
“They have to find a mechanism to support this important industry during the pandemic,” Nanau says. “All I ask is, please, let’s have a national dialogue. Let’s use this day of culture to find solutions, in order to keep the cultural sector alive.”
The director adds that he isn’t worried such outspoken criticism might lead to a withdrawal of Oscar campaigning support from the RFC, which is a government-controlled institution.
“I’m not concerned, because we’re working for the same cause, basically. And they already committed their support publicly. The Minister of Culture [Bogdan Gheorghiu] was very open and honest. And I think, in the end, it’s a national project,” explains Nanau.
That said, the Ministry of Culture’s initial response to the filmmaker’s medal rebuff has been predictably hostile. “They said, ‘We supported you, we supported the campaign for the film, how dare you!’” the director says.
“But’s not about me. I don’t want to pick fights with politicians. They’re diverting the discussion to, ‘What does he want from us?’ Instead of saying, ‘Okay, let’s get to work and find solutions.’”
The news emerges as “Collective” continues to pick up steam with critics and awards bodies. A real-life investigative thriller in the vein of “Spotlight” and “All The President’s Men,” “Collective” follows a team of dogged journalists at a Romanian sports newspaper as they gradually uncover shocking, widespread government corruption in the aftermath of the deadly nightclub fire.
After world premiering at the Biennale in 2019, Magnolia Pictures and Participant acquired the movie’s North American rights, positioning the film for a 2020 launch and awards run, while Dogwoof snagged international rights.
Among its accolades, the doc was last week named best foreign language film by the National Society of Film Critics and picked up the best documentary prize at last month’s European Film Awards. Critics have been equally impressed: Variety sister publication Rolling Stone named “Collective” the best film of 2020 and it holds a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Nanau’s profile has grown in tandem with the film’s acclaim. As revealed by Variety last month, Cinetic Media has signed the writer-director for management, representing him across both scripted and unscripted film and television. The acclaim for “Collective” comes after Nanau won an International Emmy Award in 2010 for his documentary “The World According to Ion B.”
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