Directors: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert
2019 really has been a very strong year for documentaries. Between Apollo 11 and The Biggest Little Farm, we’ve seen documentaries cover a variety of topics with sensitivity and intrigue in ways 2018 did not match. Now with American Factory, we have a movie that may have surpassed them both and emerged as the best documentary of the year. Between being informative, emotionally investing, and something that most people can relate to regardless of their cultural background, American Factory takes a hard look at the world being created around us, those impacted by it, and what those in power want to accomplish with their actions.
The film takes place in Dayton, Ohio and follows the workers who were laid off following the closing of the General Motors plant in the area. When Fuyao, a Chinese glass company, comes in and re-opens the plant, these workers come back thinking they will have a similar experience as the one they had working for General Motors. When Fuyao brings some of their own Chinese workers over to work in the factory with the Americans, the two cultures come together with their own set of difficulties and also moments of honesty and humanity. There are a couple of different ways you can look at American Factory, the first is that the executives of a major company like this, regardless of the country they’re from, exist exclusively to serve themselves and don’t care about anyone other than themselves and their money. The things they will do and say to their workers just to earn a few more dollars is appalling and truly shows what power and greed does to a person. To these executives, their workers are just warm bodies and as long as they have enough to keep up production they don’t care who’s there or what their concerns are. On the other said though, American Factory does an amazing job of humanizing everyone on the bottom regardless of where they come from. At the beginning, everyone is uneasy about working with people from another background, but as time passes the two groups become one and understand more about where the other side is coming from. Even as an American this movie was eye-opening to see what other parts of the country look like, let alone the Chinese side of things. There are absolutely moments in China where I am flabbergasted that what this company is doing is considered normal, but as long as no one is getting hurt than you have to respect the way another culture does things. American Factory is truly an eye-opening experience that has a definite blend of emotion and realism to work through its 110 minute runtime. Netflix truly has a hit on its hands with American Factory and one that could very well take home an Academy Award in February. As a movie that showcases the cultural divide between our two countries, in another sense American Factory shows us that we have more in common than we realize and should be united against those causing the pain and strife on those below them.
Overall, American Factory is just as uplifting as it is horrifying and shows a side of both cultures that maybe isn’t necessarily in the spotlight as often as it should be. When we see two countries come together and work towards a common goal, great things can be accomplished but they can also be corrupted by the wealthy and powerful at the top. For Bognar and Reichert, it seems like all of their work on documentaries and this subject has paid off as American Factory will be remembered as one of the best in a while.
Overall Score: 9/10