By the time director Alexander Nanau finally finished filming his documentary “Collective,” he had about 400 hours of footage to sort through.

“I strongly believe in the power of observational,” Nanau told awards editor Tim Gray in the Variety Streaming Room. “You never know what the story will be. You never know what will happen.”

The documentary, centered on the deadly Colectiv nightclub fire in 2015, follows a team of local investigative journalists who uncover health care fraud by moguls and politicians, which led to the deaths of innocent citizens. It is Romania’s official submission to the Academy Awards’ best international film category.

Following the national tragedy, Nanau and his crew began meeting with victims, doctors, politicians and more. They learned a journalist was investigating the healthcare system, and the team realized holding the system and its leaders accountable was exactly what they were looking to do.

“Romanian politics are really politics of populism and a lot of incompetence and corruption that comes together,” Nanau said.

He explained they were “suddenly caught in this vortex of revelations and corruptions.” Essential information came from whistleblowers, who ultimately determined the fate of the documentary. Nanau arranged so that these sources could decide in post-production whether or not to back out after watching the footage.

The high-stakes nature of the documentary brought Nanau under close surveillance by the Romanian government. He says an inside source told him the government was listening to his phone and that acquaintances working for the administration were called in by the secret service to answer questions about him.

Toward the end of the project, it seemed like suspicions were dropped as the president offered Nanau a cultural medal. However, in light of the administration’s poor reaction to the pandemic, he rejected it. In turn, the government retaliated with a press release that tarnished his name and company.

“I couldn’t accept the medal and pretend that the politics and culture are fine because they are not,” Nanau said. “I cannot pretend that they took care of the culture and do not let it just die out right now.”