American Factory

American Factory (美国工厂; 美國工廠) is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, about Chinese company Fuyao's factory in Moraine, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, that occupies Moraine Assembly, a shuttered General Motors plant. The film had its festival premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is distributed by Netflix and is the first film distributed by Barack Obama and Michelle Obama's production company, Higher Ground Productions.[1][2]

American Factory
Directed by
Produced by
  • Jeff Reichert
  • Julie Parker Benello
Music byChad Cannon
Cinematography
  • Steven Bognar
  • Aubrey Keith
  • Jeff Reichert
  • Julia Reichert
  • Erick Stoll
Edited byLindsay Utz
Production
company
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • January 25, 2019 (2019-01-25) (Sundance)
  • August 21, 2019 (2019-08-21) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Language
  • English
  • Mandarin

Production

Filmed from February 2015 until the end of 2017, Reichert and Bognar were granted filming access by Fuyao at both their Ohio and Chinese plant locations. They were inspired to make this film as the events they aimed to depict were taking place in the same Moraine Assembly plant once occupied by General Motors, which was the central topic of their 2009 documentary The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.[3]

It was not until the editing process that the filmmakers decided to centralize the experiences of workers themselves during the Fuyao plant take-over, which they describe as the "beating heart of the story".[4]

The Mandarin Chinese language portions of the film were facilitated by the inclusion of two Chinese filmmakers, Yiqian Zhang and Mijie Li, one or both of whom would travel to Ohio monthly. The directors accredit these two as essential in providing a connection to the Chinese subjects depicted in the film.[5]

Style

The filmmakers implemented a fly-on-the-wall documentary film making approach, in which no dialogue external to the subjects of the film is included, and the sounds of the factory and the dialogue of the workers is prioritized. In order to make focal such an audio/visual approach, the filmmakers implemented the use of lavalier microphones to effectively balance worker dialogue amidst noise emanating from the factory's machinery. The voice-over narration provided by the factory workers was often recorded at their respective homes, independently from the factory setting. According to Bognar, implementing the film's narration in this way to create an effect of depicting a worker's inner monologue.[6]

Reception

After the film’s screening at Sundance, the film garnered positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 96% based on reviews from 55 critics, with an average of 8.51/10. The site's consensus reads: "American Factory takes a thoughtful – and troubling – look at the dynamic between workers and employers in the 21st-century globalized economy."[7] On Metacritic it has a weighted average score of 86 out of 100 based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[8]

David Edelstein of New York Magazine wrote: "It’s a great, expansive, deeply humanist work, angry but empathetic to its core. It gestures toward the end of the working world we know – and to the rise of the machines."[9] Eric Kohn at IndieWire wrote that it's "A fascinating tragicomedy about the incompatibility of American and Chinese industries."[10]

Accolades

In April 2019, the film won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the RiverRun International Film Festival.[11]

References

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