19 Feb 2015

Channel 4 News RTS award for Romanian tunnel film

Channel 4 News and Ecostorm win the Royal Television Society’s independent award for a “remarkable” film about the world of Bucharest’s homeless underground society.

The film, first broadcast in May 2014, exposed the desperate lives of hundreds of men, women and children living in squalid conditions in a network of tunnels and sewers under the Romanian capital Bucharest.

In shocking scenes, the tunnel-dwellers are seen injecting drugs and inhaling paint fumes. Most of the people in the tunnels have HIV and a quarter have TB. Some look like children yet are teenagers, stunted by the drug abuse.

Just a few feet above them life continues as normal.

This film told an absolutely compelling story and exposed a horrible reality. RTS jury

This parallel universe is presided over by a man known as Bruce Lee, in honour of his past street fighting days. A tattoo on his leg reads Bruce Lee, King of the Sewers. He agreed to show reporter Paraic O’Brien and the Ecostorm team around his hellish underground kingdom.

In awarding the independent award the RTS said: “The jury thought this film told an absolutely compelling story and exposed a horrible reality.

“It took many months to set up, and although other journalists have tried before to tell the story of the weird world of the men, women and children living in the sewers of Bucharest, this was a quite remarkable film with brilliant pictures and great storytelling.”

Behind the scenes

Freelance producer Radu Ciorniciuc first made contact and started to develop a relationship with the Bucharest sewer-dwellers, allowing reporter Paraic O’Brien to go below ground to capture their lives on camera.

Paraic describes the hellish conditions below ground where the team had to crawl through darkness into the unknown – facing overwhelming smells and generator noise, not to mention paint fumes, as they squeezed into ever-smaller spaces to film the scenes for their report:

Catalina’s funeral

Paraic O’Brien and the Ecostorm team later returned to Romania after hearing that 18-year-old Catalina, one of the women featured in their first piece, had since died from Aids-related heart failure.

See his subsequent film, Is death the only escape from life in Romania’s tunnels, here:

After his follow-up film was broadcast, Paraic O’Brien explained on Channel 4 News how Catalina had told social workers that her dying wish was to die in the tunnels with “her family”: