In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands of locals, the arrival of this multinational car-glass manufacturer meant regaining their jobs–and dignity–after the recession left them high and dry. American Factory takes us inside the facility to observe what happens when workers from profoundly different cultures collide.
At first, the culture clash is humorous. Transplanted Chinese workers attend trainings on dealing with their peculiarly casual and “chatty” American counterparts. However tensions escalate as poor safety standards and meager wages ignite serious doubts among the American rank and file. Low productivity and talk of unionization trigger a cascade of controls from Chinese management. Meanwhile, the specter of job loss due to automation looms ominously.
American Factory was supported through Julia Reichert’s 2016 Chicken & Egg Award.
ABOUT THE DIRECTORS
Julia Reichert (she/her) was an Oscar® and Emmy®-winning independent documentary filmmaker, and a four-time Academy Award® nominee. She lived in a small town in Ohio and has chosen to focus on class, gender, and race in the lives of Americans. Julia’s first film, Growing Up Female, was the first feature documentary of the modern Women’s Movement. It was selected in 2011 for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Her films Union Maids and Seeing Red were nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature, as was The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, a short which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and on HBO. Her film A Lion in the House (an ITVS co-production), about kids fighting cancer, premiered at Sundance Film Festival, screened nationally on PBS, and won a Primetime Emmy® for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking. Julia’s film American Factory 美国工厂,(a co-production with Participant), about the rebirth of a dead Midwestern factory, won the US Documentary Directing Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the Best Documentary Spirit Award, the Best Documentary Gotham Award, the Outstanding Nonfiction Feature and Outstanding Direction awards at the Cinema Eye Honors, and the Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature. It was the first film released by Higher Ground Productions, the production company created by Michelle & Barack Obama, and is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Julia’s film 9to5: The Story of a Movement, an official selection of SXSW, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, AFI DOCS Film Festival, and DOC NYC, tells the story of secretaries rising up and organizing to fight for their rights. The film premiered on the PBS series Independent Lens, was nominated for a Peabody Award, and now streams on Netflix. Julia co-founded New Day Films, an independent film distribution co-op. She is the author of Doing It Yourself, the first book on self-distribution in independent film, and was an Advisory Board member of IFP. Julia co-wrote and directed the feature film, Emma and Elvis. Over the decades, she has mentored hundreds of emerging filmmakers. Julia taught for 28 years at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. In 2019, a retrospective of her work, Julia Reichert: 50 Years in Film, organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and traveled to a dozen cities across the United States.
Steven Bognar (he/him) is an Academy Award® and Primetime Emmy® winning documentary filmmaker based in southwest Ohio. Bognar’s first 1996 film, Personal Belongings, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on the PBS series POV. His short films Picture Day (2000) and Gravel (2003) also premiered at Sundance and screened widely. Bognar’s film A Lion in the House (2006) premiered at Sundance, screened on the PBS series Independent Lens, was nominated for a Best Documentary Spirit Award, and won the Primetime Emmy® for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking. His film The Last Truck (2009) was nominated for an Academy Award® and screened on HBO. His film Sparkle (2012) won the Audience Award® for Best Short at SilverDocs and screened on PBS. Bognar’s film American Factory (2019) won the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award, the Gotham Award, the Cinema Eye Honor, and the Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature. Bognar & Reichert’s latest film, 9to5 – The Story Of A Movement, (2020) was an official selection of the SXSW, AFI DOCS, IDFA, Full Frame, and DOC NYC film festivals in 2021. Bognar has taught documentary extensively, including guest lectures at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford Universities.
ABOUT THE PRODUCERS
Julie Parker Benello (she/her) is the Founder of Secret Sauce Media, her latest venture to produce and invest in surprising and timeless film projects. Julie co-founded Chicken & Egg Pictures in 2005 with a shared belief that diverse women nonfiction storytellers have the power to catalyze change at home and around the globe. She produced Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s Academy Award®, Emmy®, Gotham and Independent Spirit winning feature documentary American Factory, streaming on Netflix in partnership with Higher Ground Productions and Participant Media. Most recently, she produced Sarah Jones’ directorial debut, Sell Buy Date, premiering at SXSW 2022 and Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk’s Netflix Originals documentary, Athlete A. Julie lives in San Francisco and serves on the Board of SFFILM and is a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Documentary Branch.
Jeff Reichert (he/him) is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn. His films as a director include the feature documentaries Gerrymandering (Tribeca Film Festival 2010), Remote Area Medical (Full Frame 2013), This Time Next Year (Tribeca Film Festival 2014), and the fiction-documentary hybrid Feast of the Epiphany (BAMcinemaFest 2018), and the shorts Kombit (Sundance 2014), Nobody Loves Me (Camden 2017), American Carnage (Field of Vision 2017) and To Be Queen (Tribeca Film Festival 2019). He also produced Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory (Sundance Film Festival 2019). His work has been awarded the Film Independent Spirit Award, Gotham Award, and Cinema Eye Honor (all for Best Documentary). He is a Peabody Award Nominee. He is also the co–founder and editor of the online film journal Reverse Shot (est. 2003), now a publication of the Museum of the Moving Image, and has written for Film Comment, Filmmaker, Huffington Post, and Indiewire.