The Netflix nonfiction film “American Factory” has a solid shot at picking up the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award come February 9. That means that co-director Julia Reichert, who made the film alongside Steven Bognar, could take home her first Oscar after four nominations dating back to 1976’s “Union Maids.” Here, IndieWire shares an exclusive video featurette, courtesy of Netflix, that offers a retrospective of Reichert’s decades-long career in documentary storytelling. That includes her other Oscar-nominated films, such as “Seeing Red” and “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.”
Reichert was addressing feminism and socialism in her work long before the current moment turned its eye to these hot-button political issues, all with an aesthetic rigor that pushes her documentary filmmaking beyond mere information.
Last weekend, “American Factory” took home the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary — often a bellwether for the Academy Award win. The film places viewers squarely in post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire sets up shop 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.
The Obamas executive-produced “American Factory” through their Higher Ground Productions, which currently has a deal with Netflix. At a November 2019 International Documentary Association screening and Q&A with Reichert and co-director Bognar, she broke down her approach to the film.
“The General Motors plant was like the heart of the blue collar, middle class of our town, Dayton, Ohio,” she said. “So we started meeting people down at the local bars and around the plant and eventually with a lot of persistence gained the trust of the people who work there who really didn’t trust the media at all — they always would show workers as really dumb and they would go to the local bar like we did. They would shoot them drunk in the back of the room and put them on screen and they always would listen more to the company point of view than the worker point of view.”