Title – American Factory (2019)
Directors – Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert (Making Morning Star)
Cast – Junming ‘Jimmy’ Wang, Dave Burrows, Robert Allen, Sherrod Brown, Wong He
Plot – An examination of post GFC Ohio, where Chinese glass making company Fuyao overtakes a dormant General Motors factory and looks to establish itself in the American market with the help of a collection of local and Chinese workers.
“Safety doesn’t pay the bills”
Review by Eddie on 21/04/2020
A breakout Netflix documentary release, American Factory shines a light on a fascinating period in the United States manufacturing landscape as Chinese companies look to gain a foothold in the heart of the country and enliven destitute factories that suffered at the hands of the Global Financial Crisis.
Heavily talked about by the likes of Barrack Obama (whose production company is behind the film’s release) and recognized as a winner of this year’s Best Documentary release at the Academy Awards, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s extensively researched and globe spanning film is consistently engaging and insightful but has a lack of central figures too walk us through this story, meaning its emotional engagement and memorability is hampered by the way in which it tells its tale.
The very best documentaries, just like narrative films, manage to connect its audience with a main protagonist or a group of them but whether by choice or fate, Bognar and Reichert fail to find that key pillar on which to build upon as they take us on an open, honest and quite raw look at what happens when two very different cultures try too mold together in ways such as this.
Following the newly established Fuyao glass factory that was set up in Moraine Ohio, along the famed Rust Belt of America in the shadow of the previously thriving General Motors site, American Factory gives us an eye-opening glimpse into the post-Financial Crisis world where many blue collar workers have found themselves out of work and lost for a number of years, desperate to find work of any kind to keep them above the poverty line and in turn give them a sense of purpose and direction.
Bognar and Reichert refuse to take sides as they follow both American members of the Fuyao company and also the Chinese nationals that have made the way across the pond to help set up the American side of the business and its incredible to witness the divide, expectations and dreams of the very different arms of the company.
One of the film’s most memorable moments sees a delegation of American employees pay a visit to a Fuyao site in China and after mainly being a part of the start-up American factory for the films initial runtime, it’s downright amazing to see how the company operates in the heartland of a nation built upon discipline, respect and blood sweat and tears as the gulf between work ethics and aspirations becomes apparent.
It’s a real shame that for all its well put together reporting and structure that the film fails to capture us completely into the personal lives of those that inhabit its story, there’s brief glimpses, from both American’s and Chinese workers that we get to meet, but we’re never given enough time with them too fully understand their needs, wants and feelings, meaning American Factory is an important documenting of its subject, but one that could’ve perhaps been even more.
Final Say –
A unique examination of a blending of two cultures that showcases what could be America’s new frontier, American Factory is a solid documentary that’s lack of heart and soul holds it back from being something truly special.
3 ½ Wheaties out of 5