August 19, 2019
When Netflix met with veteran documentarians Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar to acquire their new film American Factory in January, fresh off the film’s acclaimed premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, there were also executives from Higher Ground Productions in the room.
Inside The First Netflix Movie To Get The Obamas’ Stamp Of Approval
“They told us who they were, and we had never heard of it,” Julia recalled in an interview.
Julia and Steven’s documentary — winner of Sundance’s directing award for best U.S. documentary — chronicles what happened in 2014 when Fuyao, a Chinese glass company, resurrected a former General Motors plant outside of Dayton, Ohio, near where the filmmakers live.
As the co-directors later learned, the executives worked with former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s production company, created last May in conjunction with their Netflix deal.
Since then, the Obamas have largely kept their work at Netflix under wraps.
This spring, they announced their first slate of projects — a range of movies and series including a biopic about Frederick Douglass, a period drama series by the screenwriter of Thelma & Louise, a documentary show based on The New York Times’ Overlooked obituary series and a children’s show about vegetables.
American Factory, premiering this Wednesday on Netflix, is the first of their productions to be released.
Unlike the Obamas’ other still-gestating projects, American Factory had already been finished when Netflix and Higher Ground acquired it, so the company did not have any involvement in the making of the documentary, according to Julia and Steven.
However, they’re grateful that the Obamas’ stamp of approval likely means “the film will be heard about and talked about in a much wider world than otherwise,” Steven said.In July, the documentarians met the former president and first lady in Washington. It was the day before they spoke with HuffPost, and they still seemed a bit stunned by the distinction of being the Obamas’ first Netflix production.
“They’re wonderful people,” Julia said of meeting them. “It was amazing when we heard that the president and the first lady had seen our film, and wanted to embrace it and wanted to elevate us as filmmakers. I mean, they’re very much into artists and writers.”
American Factory illustrates how broad economic and political questions are often cultural issues too. The documentary excels at going beyond the daily headlines about trade and globalisation, showing a Chinese company establishing itself in America and getting Chinese and American employees to work side by side, and how difficulties that arise come down to fundamentally different ideas about work.
The two previously covered the plant’s closure during the Great Recession in the 2009 HBO documentary The Last Truck. They said they hadn’t intended to revisit the subject, but realised that chronicling the American plant’s rebirth under a Chinese company would make for a compelling story.
The film’s fly-on-the-wall view and taut editing effectively convey a sense of shifting allegiances and brewing tensions. Initially, the community welcomes Fuyao’s presence and the promise of economic opportunity for the region. (Though, as some of the workers note in the film, the new jobs pay much lower than the GM jobs did.) Publicly, company executives project an image of unity, striving to integrate the Chinese and American workers and their practices.
But privately, the process quickly goes south. As the film shows, Fuyao, like many companies in China, tries to circumvent many safety procedures and worker protections in the name of efficiency. The Dayton plant is expected to reach the same levels of glass production as those of Fuyao’s factories in China. The Chinese workers are driven by a collective sense of mission — heightened by the Chinese executives who are seen in the film rallying the Chinese workers by using nationalist appeals to sow animosity.We wanted to put you in the shoes of both the executives and the workers, the Chinese and the Americans. It’s almost like, you remember that show ‘Downton Abbey’?"American Factory" co-director Steven BognarOne section of the film tracks a group of American supervisors from the Dayton plant who visit Fuyao’s headquarters in Fuzhou, China. The trip exposes fundamental differences: Chinese workers focus on uniformity and efficiency, and work long hours, getting only one or two days off per month. As a result, they look down on the American workers — who work standard eight-hour days and get weekends off — as “lazy” and too “chatty” at work.
Julia and Steven said that visiting China helped them better understand the larger context informing the differences between the Chinese and American workers. Unlike the “beating down” of the American middle class over the last few decades, workers in China are “coming out of rural poverty,” Julia said, which contributes to their greater sense of optimism and commitment.
“That was something really, really striking for us when we were over there, and helped us understand, more, why the American workers are not as willing to work 12-hour days,” Julia said. “The Chinese, they may not like working 12-hour days, but they’re willing to do it. It’s their expectation.”
After a string of workplace injuries due to lax safety procedures, the American workers begin to organise with the United Auto Workers. In response, the company executives engage in union-busting — a maneuver that the filmmakers emphasise is, ironically, modeled on those used by their American counterparts. Fuyao hires a “union avoidance consultant” to intimidate and dissuade workers from voting to unionise. In addition to dividing workers, the union-busting takes on an added cultural element. In the film, Fuyao’s billionaire chairman says he views the union organising as the American workers trying to be “hostile toward the Chinese.”
Much of American Factory is a tense and at times frustrating saga. But the documentary also seeks to humanise everyone involved. There are moments when the American and Chinese workers do attempt to get to know each other. And with the help of Chinese producers and translators, Julia and Steven also tell the stories of individual Chinese workers, many of whom left their families behind in China to move to Dayton.
While their film succeeds as a big-picture examination of labor, manufacturing and U.S.-China relations, Julia and Steven stressed that they don’t approach their work with a bird’s-eye view in mind.
“We kind of just feel our way around for months and months,” Steven said of their filming process. “We’re filming, but we’re also learning, getting the feel of the rhythms of the place, the who’s who, the interpersonal dynamics, all that stuff.”
That approach of focusing on the various players allows for the film’s nuanced take, Steven said.
“We wanted to put you in the shoes of both the executives and the workers, the Chinese and the Americans. It’s almost like, you remember that show ‘Downton Abbey’? So you’re with the aristocracy, and you’re with the butlers and the maids,” he said. “We’re trying to go for an upstairs-downstairs feel — without judgment, so you have empathy for everyone. Even the chairman gets that internal reflection at the end, because we want you to have empathy for what his journey is too.”
American Factory premieres on Wednesday on Netflix.READ MORE... Simon Amstell: 'I Wanted To Be A Comedian Before I Wanted To Be A Gay Comedian' Orange Is The New Black Producer Lifts The Lid On Creating The Show’s Biggest Moments Tales Of The City's Author On Why Netflix's New Adaptation Has Come At The Right Time
Related Stories
Latest News
Top news around the world
Coronavirus Disease

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Around the World

Celebrity News

> Latest News in Media

Watch It
Variety Launches Variety Intelligence Platform: VIP
April 03, 2020
lESKUjXQvDs
Everything You Need to Know About the Media Business
April 03, 2020
GBtW6QubDxM
Viola Davis on 'How to Get Away With Murder' - Variety After-Show
April 03, 2020
XnU1gziXJoc
Channing Tatum & Jessie J Have Split Again | E! News
April 04, 2020
6r7WdAH482U
Meghan Markle's TV & Film Roles Through The Years | E! News
April 04, 2020
-dGynC0Qtc8
"What a Girl Wants" With Amanda Bynes: Rewind | E! News
April 04, 2020
NP9sv0OMphM
L.A. Beachgoers & Hikers Hit the Sand, Trails Despite Beach Closures | TMZ
April 04, 2020
JtcY523mXRE
Squirrels Take Over Park in Santa Monica During California Lockdown | TMZ
April 05, 2020
Gimfz-GC1js
British Actor Adam Bond Says UK's Coronavirus Policy is Dangerous | TMZ
April 04, 2020
OqPaMfiJ_cg
Nikki and Brie Bella take us inside their closets, talk pregnancy style | Page Six Celebrity News
April 01, 2020
T9art86o6FI
Jeannie Mai and Jeezy get 'Real' about post-pandemic plans | Page Six Celebrity News
April 03, 2020
sofzhfS1By0
Is ‘Bigger’ better? BET+ sex scene review | Page Six Celebrity News
April 01, 2020
1XBLbXU1rPQ
TV Schedule
Late Night Show
Watch the latest shows of U.S. top comedians

Sports

Latest sport results, news, videos, interviews and comments
Latest Events
08
Mar
ITALY: Serie A
Juventus - Inter Milan
08
Mar
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Manchester City
08
Mar
ENGLAND: Premier League
Chelsea - Everton
08
Mar
SPAIN: La Liga
Real Betis - Real Madrid
08
Mar
ITALY: Serie A
AC Milan - Genoa
07
Mar
ENGLAND: Premier League
Burnley - Tottenham Hotspur
07
Mar
ENGLAND: Premier League
Arsenal - West Ham United
07
Mar
SPAIN: La Liga
Barcelona - Real Sociedad
07
Mar
SPAIN: La Liga
Atletico Madrid - Sevilla
Find us on Instagram
at @feedimo to stay up to date with the latest.
Featured Video You Might Like
W3y9zuI_F64 -7qCxIccihU pQ9gcOoH9R8 g5MRDEXRk4k tudKp5Vhs3k iwWHibhssSo kQr0XHPbICM 5NeCb7JxaRk u5xQKdNqazE 56CdjlzJqSA kw7uFRs-Az0 xNv0JZWLV7w
Copyright © 2020 Feedimo. All Rights Reserved.