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From China, ‘American Factory’ Subject Chairman Cao Congratulates Film’s Directors on Oscar Win

Exclusive: IndieWire has a video message from Cao Dewang, who Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar profiled in their Oscar-winning "American Factory."

Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert. Steven Bognar, left, and Julia Reichert, winners of the award for best documentary feature for "American Factory", attend the Governors Ball after the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles92nd Academy Awards - Governors Ball, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert after winning Oscars for “American Factory” in 2020

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Though unable to leave China to attend Sunday night’s Academy Awards due to travel restrictions prompted by the coronavirus, “American Factory” subject Cao Dewang has a message of congratulations for filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, who won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for their Netflix film. IndieWire has the exclusive video below.

“American Factory” certainly isn’t easy on Chairman Cao, as he’s known, a Chinese billionaire who set up shop in post-industrial Ohio with a new factory in the skeleton of a shuttered General Motors plant. As high-tech China faces up against working-class America, the factory advent appears to bring promise to an economically depressed community — until the operation is riven by setbacks. However, Reichert and Bognar were able to gain his trust. The documentary was originally commissioned by Chairman Cao, but Reichert and Bognar demanded total independence if they were to make the film. which meant complete access to board meetings, the factory itself, and time with its workers and Dewang. This meant it no longer was a commissioned film, but instead, a critical piece that, as the below message indicates, has touched the Chairman.

“I am really sorry that, for various reasons, I can’t join you at the Oscars ceremony to applaud you and be part of the excitement of your win. What a pity!” he says in the video. “I was touched by the dedication you have shown as documentary filmmakers. You surmounted every obstacle, worked tirelessly. I was deeply moved by your professionalism and strong commitment to your work…after your film was out, I viewed it very carefully three times. The impression after viewing it three times was you made the film in your own way and did not spare criticism of me. But I still want to thank you.”

Finally, Dewang concluded with a message of hope, and that “American Factory” made him reconsider how he runs his operation. “I will take your criticism with an objective attitude and I believe it will help me better serve our clients and run my factory in a more American way,” he said. “I also found that your film is understood by people from all backgrounds and all ages, just as the great classic Chinese novel ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ has been received by its readers.”

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