Hollywood Live Extra #98: “American Factory” Filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar

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FILE - In this Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 file photo, Bobby Allen, from top left, director Steven Bognar, Jill Lamantia, Wong He, director Julia Reichert, bottom left, and producer Yiqian Zhang pose for a portrait to promote the film "American Factory" at the Salesforce Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah. The documentary about an Ohio auto glass factory that is run by a Chinese investor debuted Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, on Netflix, as the streaming service's first project backed by Michelle and Barack Obama's new production company. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)
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American Factory on Netflix

When General Motors shuttered its factory outside of Dayton, Ohio, in 2008, filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar — who documented the plant’s closing in their Oscar-nominated short “The Last Truck” — thought that was the end of yet another sad story of America’s industrial decline. But as it turned out, life had other plans. In 2014, the billionaire owner of the Chinese auto-glass manufacturing firm Fuyao decided to invest in the abandoned GM plant, hiring more than 1,000 American workers to work alongside and be trained by hundreds of Chinese workers. No one was quite sure how this experiment in cross-cultural capitalism would work out — and, as it turned out, there would be some pretty major bumps along the way, as frustrations on both sides threatened to boil over. But whatever happened, Reichert and Bognar — a self-described “long-term couple” who have lived in Dayton for decades and have focused throughout their careers on the lives of working-class men and women — knew they wanted to be there to chronicle it. Culled from 1,200 hours of footage, the resulting film, “American Factory,” went on to win the U.S. documentary directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and drew the attention of a pair of newcomers to the film world: Barack and Michelle Obama.

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