In 2008 General Motors closed its assembly plant in Dayton, Ohio. More than 2,500 workers lost their jobs. Six years later, Fuyao, a Chinese company manufacturing automobile glass, purchased the plant. The announcement of new owners sparked hope for many residents who had struggled to find jobs after GM shuttered. As Fuyao moved into the U.S. market, its new factory would employ Chinese and American workers.
With astounding access, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert document the opening of the factory and the years that follow as people from profoundly different cultures work alongside each other. From the outset, within these differences there are opportunities for meaningful exchange and instances of misunderstanding and disagreement. Stunning cinematography moves us through the experiences of workers on the factory floor, supervisors, senior management, and even the Fuyao chairman, Chinese billionaire entrepreneur Cao Dewang, revealing the cultural collision and its consequences. The space itself imbues the film with a dramatic intensity. When a windshield shatters, the shrill crack seems to reflect the immense pressure and interpersonal strain at stake. As time goes on, the enthusiasm around the possibility of solid work gives way to discontent, and low wages and dangerous working conditions lead American workers to consider unionizing, a prospect leadership is squarely against.
American Factory deftly traverses conflicting perspectives and dramatically unfolding events to illuminate the tensions of globalized industrialization. By weaving multiple personal narratives, the film highlights ways that people can come together and the structures that can keep them apart, making space to consider the gravity of workers’ relationships to their livelihoods, and to one another. ST
Courtesy of Participant Media & Netflix
Moderated conversation following screening
Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert
Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, Julie Parker Benello
Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
Mijie Li, Yiqian Zhang
Steven Bognar, Aubrey Keith, Jeff Reichert, Julia Reichert, Erick Stoll