Since the Oscar-Nominated ‘Collective,’ Much and Little Has Changed

BUCHAREST, Romania — On Oct. 30, 2015, a fire ripped through a nightclub in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, leaving 64 people dead. Almost six years later, a documentary about the fire and its tragic aftermath has been nominated for two Oscars.

It would be the first Oscar win for the Eastern European country, but the film’s success is bittersweet for many Romanians, given its painful subject matter — particularly since many believe not enough has changed since 2015.

“Collective,” which has been nominated for best documentary feature and best foreign film, follows a group of investigative journalists from a sports newspaper as they uncover painful truths about the Romanian health care system.

a review for The New York Times late last year, Manohla Dargis described “Collective” as a “staggering documentary” that offered “no moment when you can take an easy breath, assured that the terrible things you’ve been watching onscreen are finally over.”

For people in Romania, however, much of what is shown onscreen is painfully familiar.

Catalin Tolontan, then the editor in chief of the daily newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor, is one of the main protagonists of “Collective.” Before the documentary, “We used to receive 10 or 15 messages per day from the public, with scoops or information,” he said in an interview. “After the movie we received 70 to 80 a day.”

Earlier this year in Mongolia, when a woman with Covid-19 was transferred from the hospital in freezing temperatures just days after giving birth, journalists began asking tough questions of the government, apparently encouraging one another on Facebook by referencing “Collective,” which a local television station had shown days earlier. Protests followed, and the government ultimately resigned.

“If you are a journalist in a small country and saw ‘Spotlight,’ you could say, ‘Well, this is the U.S., they have a lot of resources, they have a strong democracy, they have a bond between the public and government,’” Tolontan, the newspaper editor, said. “But if you are in Mongolia or the Czech Republic, Indonesia, and you saw this movie, you think ‘They’re like us.’”

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” “Beyond the Hills” and “Child’s Pose” have received top awards at international festivals over the years, but none has won an Oscar.

Andrei Gorzo, a Romanian film critic, said that it was harder for Romanian viewers to see “Collective” as a morally clear-cut tale of a few good people fighting to change the rotten system.

Instead, he said, it captures a specific moment in Romania, when urban, middle-class voters believed in a new breed of politician, young and unsullied, who could clean up Romanian politics. “It is impossible for me to watch the film without acknowledging that a lot of that romanticism has turned sour since then,” he said.

Others are more optimistic.

“The generation that will change things here is not the generation that is 35-plus,” Nanau said. “It’s the younger generation, and these are the people that write to us, that we have met in the cinemas.”

Tolontan said he saw “Collective” as “a point of no return” for Romanian society.

Whether the film wins at the Oscars ceremony next month, many Romanians still hope that the film’s biggest impact will be at home, and that they can leave its content in the past.

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Czech Billionaire Is Among 5 Killed in Heli-Skiing Crash Near Alaska Glacier

Five people, including the Czech Republic’s richest man, were killed on a heli-skiing excursion on Saturday when their chopper crashed near a glacier in Alaska, officials said.

The Czech billionaire, Petr Kellner, whose net worth has been estimated at $17.5 billion by Forbes, was aboard the Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter when it went down near Knik Glacier, the lodge that chartered the aircraft said on Sunday.

Mr. Kellner, 56, was killed, along with another guest of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Benjamin Larochaix, also of the Czech Republic; two of the lodge’s guides, Gregory Harms and Sean McMannany; and the helicopter’s pilot, Zach Russel, officials said.

One survivor was listed in serious but stable condition, according to the Alaska State Troopers, which said that the National Transportation Safety Board would conduct an investigation to determine what caused the crash. Emergency responders said they were notified at 10 p.m. on Saturday that the helicopter had not returned from an excursion and that debris from a crash had been observed near Knik Glacier.

The accident was the latest misadventure for an extreme sport with little margin for error that has become a magnet for thrill seekers. Flights to remote mountains, playgrounds of untouched powder, are known for their steep price tags and risk.

The lodge, which offers weekly packages of $15,000 per person for shared accommodations and heli-skiing charters, expressed its sorrow about the crash in a statement on Sunday night.

“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” the lodge said. “In 17 years of operations this is the first time we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”

A representative for the lodge, which is in Judd Lake, Alaska, said she did not know what caused the crash. Officials said the helicopter was operated by Soloy Helicopters in Wasilla, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lodge confirmed that it had chartered the flight.

According to the lodge, Mr. Kellner was a frequent guest and friend of the resort. His investment company, PPF Group, also confirmed the death in a statement released Monday, saying that the crash was under investigation.

“His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family,” the company said of Mr. Kellner, adding that the funeral would be held with only close family members.

Mr. Kellner made his first fortune in the 1990s after starting an investment fund, which he used to buy a controlling stake in the country’s largest insurance company.

In October, he acquired a major European broadcast network, Central European Media Enterprises, for $1.1 billion, raising concerns in the Czech Republic that the network might lose independence. But in a statement released at the time, Mr. Kellner said the acquisition was driven by “a sense of responsibility” and vowed that the network would retain its objectivity.

PPF Group has also donated millions of respirators and masks and thousands of coronavirus testing kits and swabs to help the Czech Republic in the pandemic, the Czech news media reported.

He was married with four children, according to his company’s website.

According to the lodge, Mr. Harms, 52, was a pioneering guide in the Alaskan heli-skiing community and operated his own excursion business, Third Edge Heli. Mr. McMannany, 38, had been a guide for more than 10 years and was an avalanche instructor, the lodge said.

Details about Mr. Larochaix, 50, and Mr. Russel, 33, the pilot, were not immediately available.

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Blinken’s Welcome by NATO Doesn’t Hide Differences on Key Issues

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sought to smooth alliance feathers ruffled by the previous U.S. administration on a trip to NATO and the European Union this week, but his diplomatic calm did not completely mask deep-seated issues.

Mr. Blinken appeared to hit all the right soothing notes, talking of the American desire to “revitalize the alliance” and consult and coordinate with America’s Western allies “wherever and whenever we can.” He met with the E3 — the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany — and those of the Visegrad Four — Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He met with his Baltic colleagues.

He praised NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has faced internal criticism for his sometimes awkward efforts to flatter former President Donald J. Trump and keep him from blowing up the alliance with bombastic threats. Mr. Blinken also offered nice words for embattled European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles.

And he scheduled meetings with his Belgian counterpart and a virtual thank-you to the staff of the three American embassies in Brussels.

the troop withdrawal agreement it struck with the Taliban last year is coming due. A decision is coming soon, and “in together, adjust together and, when the time is right, leave together” remains the NATO position, even if it is becoming clearer that the original withdrawal deadline of May 1 is likely to slip by several months.

Mr. Blinken said that he had provided NATO colleagues “the president’s thinking.” But just as important, he insisted, were their views, which he had shared with the White House Tuesday night, he said.

“We will consult with our friends, early and often,’’ he said, describing it as “a change from the past that our allies are already seeing.’’

He gave no indication of when a decision on how many troops to withdraw, and when, might be coming. But it seemed clear that Washington and NATO will want to give time, perhaps as much as six months, for a new effort at getting the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a power-sharing government. The risk is that after May 1, the originally agreed date for American troops to leave, the Taliban will renew attacks on NATO forces.

China is also an undercurrent of strain. European allies are reluctant to be pushed into an American-led confrontation with China. Those countries, and especially large export-driven economies like Germany, are more dependent on China for trade.

But Mr. Blinken promised that “the United States won’t force our allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China,” despite Beijing’s “coercive behavior,” he said, that “threatens our collective security and prosperity” and its efforts “to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share.”

At the same time, Mr. Blinken said, Washington would seek to work with China on issues like climate change and health security, and do the same with Russia, despite its own aggressive actions, on nuclear arms control, “strategic stability” and climate.

And then there is the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, a Russia-owned project that will take Russian gas to Germany, bypassing Ukraine and Poland. Mr. Biden has made no secret of his opposition to the pipeline and his intention to follow legal requirements to impose sanctions on any company or institution that aids in its construction.

Mr. Blinken repeated that position to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany at the start of their bilateral meeting. At the same time, he emphasized that Germany is among America’s most important allies, that the pipeline is “an irritant in an rock-solid alliance,’’ and that Germany has some choices to make.

On Iran, Mr. Blinken insisted that the E3, participants in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, were aligned with Washington in demanding that Iran make the first move to restore compliance with it. Mr. Blinken said that Washington remained open to restart diplomatic talks with the Iranians on nuclear issues, but that “the ball is in their court.’’ Iran has rejected that stance, arguing that the United States abandoned the deal under Mr. Trump, reimposing harsh sanctions, and should remove them first.

Mr. Blinken also encouraged NATO allies to continue to spend more on defense as they have promised, saying that a more modern and adaptable NATO needs more resources. “When our allies shoulder their fair share of the burden, they will have a fair say in the decisions,’’ he said.

But he also had a veiled warning for NATO allies who are regressing in democratic practices, like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. Without naming them, he said, “some of our allies are moving in the wrong direction.” NATO allies must “all speak up when countries take steps that undermine democracy and human rights,’’ he said.

He further warned that to maintain and sustain American support, the alliance must also serve American interests.

“We can’t build a foreign policy that delivers for the American people without maintaining effective alliances,’’ he said. “And we can’t sustain effective alliances without showing how they deliver for the American people.’’

Of course the other 29 countries in the alliance have voters, too. But this week’s visit was about restoration and revival, not open criticism.

As Mr. Stoltenberg said: “We have now a unique opportunity to start a new chapter in the trans-Atlantic relationship,” adding: “Secretary Blinken, Tony, once again welcome to NATO. You are here not just among allies, but also among friends.’’

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20,000 White Crosses: Marking Covid’s Toll in Central and Eastern Europe

PRAGUE — More than 20,000 white crosses have appeared painted on the cobblestones of a medieval square in central Prague, each representing a victim of Covid-19 — an effort highlighting the ravages of a pandemic that has in recent weeks battered Eastern and Central Europe.

Like many countries in the region, the Czech Republic weathered the first wave of the coronavirus early last year far better than Italy and many other nations in Western Europe. But it has since suffered one of the world’s highest Covid death rates and has struggled over the past month to contain a new wave of infections.

Hungary — whose far-right populist leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, last year boasted of his government’s response to the pandemic — is also experiencing record death rates, with over 4,000 fatalities this past month.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and other countries in the region lifted pandemic restrictions last summer after successful initial efforts to the contain the virus. But with cases and deaths climbing in recent weeks, they are now scrambling to reverse the damage.

Serbia, Europe’s best vaccinator after Britain, has seen infection rates spike sharply in recent weeks, prompting the authorities to impose new partial lockdowns.

the European Union’s stumbling efforts to order and distribute vaccines, the Czech government has sought to get its infection and death rate down by imposing some of Europe’s toughest restrictions.

After a three-week lockdown with shops and schools closed, obligatory testing of employees by companies and restrictions on movement, the number of Covid-10 patients entering hospital has started to drop. That has slowly eased the burden on hospitals that were last month at the limit of their capacity, and Czech hospitals now report that 12 percent of beds in their intensive care unit are unoccupied.

Petr Smejkal, the chief epidemiologist at Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, blamed what he described as a series of misjudgments by the authorities for his country’s bleak record.

“Firstly, we missed the beginning of the second wave and failed to contain the surge of infections at the end of the summer,” he said. “Secondly, we relaxed restrictions before Christmas, and thirdly, we insufficiently tracked the British mutation at the beginning of January.”

“Sadly, the government did not listen to its experts,” he added.

The Hungarian government had been particularly resistant to the advice of experts who called for greater vigilance in response to the crisis. It has instead sought public opinion on the issue of reopening via an online questionnaire.

A report by Politico this month found that Hungary, despite having Russian, Chinese and Western vaccines, had one of the lowest coronavirus inoculation rates in the European Union.

vaccines and medical equipment.

“Obviously, it would be much more effective to involve the municipalities” in the vaccine rollout, Mr. Karacsony said. “But they won’t do it, because they don’t want the opposition to capitalize on it.”

Hana de Goeij reported from Prague, and Benjamin Novak from Budapest. Andrew Higgins contributed reporting from Warsaw.

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