About a major European Commission success, why winning sucks and how that might be changed

I am one of the producers of Toto and his Sisters. It was launched on September 24 at San Sebastian. The reviews are great. Trailer at the end of this posting.

Back in 2007 at the request of the European Commission (EC) a consultation between a number of Roma experts and senior EC management took place. That meeting made possible the production of this movie. I argued hard during and after the meeting that such a documentary will work. Some of the bureaucrats there forced me to improve my arguments by opposing the idea. At the end of the day the movie is a result of an idea proposed by a Roma implemented by Roma and non-Roma together. With Strada Film, one of the most accomplished production houses in Eastern Europe we decided to employ the Emmy winner director Alex Nanau to direct the movie. The Roma Initiative Office of the Open Society Institute helped when most needed as did European Roma Grassroots Organisation.

“Awareness raising” was the term used by the EC in the call for proposals for the grant.

Tens (might be hundreds) of millions of people will end up seeing or reading about the movie – “a harrowing but necessary glimpse into existences eked out among the grimy bottom rungs of the European Union’s social ladder” (The Hollywood Reporter).

Euronews ran a story about it a day after its official release. Six major film festivals in Europe will present the movie in the next 2 months. HBO bought it and will distribute the movie; the network has more than 114 million subscribers worldwide.

The movie attracted well over 10 times more private money than the seed money provided by the EU. The EC paid less for it than most of its 30 second to 1 min advertisements.

The practice we developed in the ghetto of Ferentari due to the same consultation ended up winning major international and national prizes. Recognition of our work lead me to be one of those that received the European Citizenship Award of the European Parliament in 2013. The organization I created -Policy Center for Roma and Minorities changed many lives of people in the ghetto. It is respected in the community and gained the trust of many people.

Toto and His Sisters is an endearing story about unprivileged kids who end up living the wrong life because they don’t find themselves in the right context. It also underlines an important issue – for Romania in particular, but also for other countries – that the education we get as children shapes who we become as adults.( official review- San Sebastian)

The local administration and the national government became very aware of our work and the issues in Ferentari. Hundreds of high- level officials all around Europe came to the ghetto and praised our work.

What emerges is a briskly informative portrait of Bucharest’s notorious Ferentari neighborhood, a zone which has evidently been overlooked by the relevant authorities for years, perhaps decades.(TV Muse)

The movie will force many to react.

We won, you, my reader might say.

Not really. This win sucks. It sucks because it is in fact an aberration. The overwhelming majority of the EU funds targeting Roma were/are wasted. Not on innovation and learning important lessons – we waste money in an awfully predictable way. Badly thought and designed trainings are repeated every year; same with conferences, reports, cultural events, fliers… To many political inept appointments in decision-making positions, conformism, lip-service and lack of spine among bureaucrats in governments, intergovernmental organisations as well as within civil society transformed a great cause into a mockery. Empty bombastic speeches replaced in a large percentage the much needed actions.

I quitted tired of begging[1] and adversities. Left the organization and found a job outside Roma field that makes me happy. I can afford doing more for the children in Ferentari now than before.

The way the European Union deals with Roma and social inclusion in general is a mess.

Change is not hard to come about[2].

The movie might inspire some. The EC and all the other bureaucracies (Council of Europe, European Parliament, OSCE, FRA, UN etc) could use it to raise awareness, pressure governments and justify changes in policies and approaches.

Millions of children live in similar ghettoes all around Europe.

The main character of the movie ,Totonel, has incredible courage and will to succeed against all odds. His drive is inspiring and could change minds and attitudes. Seeing some of those that matter copying Totonel might be the big win. Would feel anyway a lot better than this win feels now.


[1] http://valeriucnicolae.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/why-i-quit/

[2] http://wp.me/p2HVQZ-7Z

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