“American Factory,” an eye-popping look at the differences between American and Chinese workers when they come together at a Chinese car-glass factory in Ohio, will open globally in 190 countries on Netflix and in select North American theaters on August 21. Netflix acquired Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s non-fiction feature out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary and became a top early contender in the 2020 Oscar race.
The Participant Media production focuses on the dramatic culture clash when a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Following its Sundance premiere, the film impressed Barack and Michelle Obama, who launched their Netflix-partnered Higher Ground Productions last spring “to harness the power of storytelling,” as the former U.S. president described it at the time. This marks the first title from Higher Ground to premiere on the streaming service.
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“We are drawn to stories that celebrate the human spirit through struggles and triumphs,” Higher Ground co-heads Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan told IndieWire. “Julia and Steve have made a remarkable film honoring the importance of dignity and security on the job as the global economy shifts and workers increasingly are caught in the middle.”
Higher Ground’s slate is focused on inspirational projects that touch on a variety of subjects including race, class, democracy, civil rights and more. Among the Obamas’ initial Netflix projects are an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk” and a Frederick Douglass biopic.
“We are honored and thrilled that Netflix and Higher Ground are teaming up to bring ‘American Factory’ to the world,” said Reichert and Bognar in a statement. “Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. We’re excited about the national and global conversations we believe this film can spark.”
Bognar and Reichert won an Emmy for “A Lion in the House” (ITVS/PBS); their documentary short “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” (HBO) was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 and introduced them to the location of “American Factory.” Reichert also landed Oscar nominations for “Union Maids” (1977) and “Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists” (1983). Reichert has been making documentaries for 50 years and her work is currently being celebrated with a touring retrospective.