113: Inside “American Factory”

Barack and Michelle Obama picked the film “American Factory” to be the first film backed by their company Higher Ground. Now the film is Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Feature and available on Netflix. 

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert about their long history filming inside the factory in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. They previously made “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” that chronicled the demise of its original incarnation. That film was Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Short in 2009. Several years later, the city gained new hope when the Chinese company Fuyao reopened the plant to manufacture industrial strength glass for vehicles. Bognar and Reichert gained access to all levels of the factory from the Chinese management to the American workers. They benefited from working with Chinese field producers Lulu Men, Siyan Liu, Danni Wang, and co-producers Mijie Li and Yiqian Zhang.

The interview lingers over the challenges of maintaining such intimate access, especially after the tensions rise over a battle to unionize at the factory. “It’s one thing to gain access and it’s another thing to gain trust,” says Reichert.

This conversation was recorded in New York at the School of Visual Arts MFA program for Social Documentary in August 2019. Two recent events loomed in the background and come up in the conversation. One is the passing of documentary pioneer D.A. Pennbaker. The other is a mass shooting in Dayton that took place just a few days prior.


On Twitter: @thompowers @PureNonfiction

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