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Just before the COVID pandemic sent the world into lockdown last spring, visitors to the True/False film festival — an annual showing of top documentaries in Columbia, Missouri — got a sneak preview of a remarkable film about journalism.

Collective, which is already picking up Oscar buzz, will hold its virtual premiere Friday across the United States. It’s the story of how a corrupt oligarchy caused the deaths of dozens of burn victims in Romania, and how the corruption was exposed by a sportswriter.

Last spring, Global Journalist interviewed that sportswriter, Catalin Tolontan, about how and why he dove into a national scandal in his home country, Romania.

The show also features an interview with movie director Alexander Nanau, who came to Columbia for True/False and talked about how he and his team were able to build trust with a reporting team that was under siege.

In the interview, Nanau said he was struck by how strongly audiences on this side of the Atlantic responded to his film about a Romanian scandal, and the dogged journalists who exposed it.

“In North America, people feel and say that it’s not a Romanian story, actually. It’s an American story,” Nanau said. “You know, I have the feeling everybody thinks we are all sitting in a car that is driving full speed towards a wall. We have quite mad leaders at the steering wheel, and we don’t know why they’re doing it. And, you know, we don’t know how to stop them driving towards the wall.”

The whistleblowers and journalists featured in his documentary suggest a way for putting the brakes on “mad leaders,” Nanau said.

“I think the story gives you the feeling that, okay that we have to implicate ourselves in our community if we wanted to work. We can’t let other people destroy our state’s institutions, communities, or our society.”

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