2019 Sundance Docs in Focus: AMERICAN FACTORY

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Steven Bognar

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert present an observational portrait of an Ohio factory run by a Chinese company.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands of locals, the arrival of this multinational car-glass manufacturer meant regaining their jobs – and dignity – after the recession left them high and dry. AMERICAN FACTORY takes us inside the facility to observe what happens when workers from profoundly different cultures collide.

At first, the culture clash is humorous. Transplanted Chinese workers attend trainings on dealing with their peculiarly casual and “chatty” American counterparts. But tensions mount. Slack safety standards and meager wages ignite serious doubts among the American rank and file. Low productivity and talk of unionization trigger a cascade of controls from Chinese management. Meanwhile, something ominous – the specter of job loss from automation – looms.

With precision and astonishing access, directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar capture every key moment in this high-stakes intercultural chess game, revealing how American and Chinese workers view themselves within systems of authority. What results is an epic masterwork about the future of American labor and Chinese economic dominance, all within the confines of a factory in Ohio.

Some Background:

  • Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
    Past Sundance docs:

    SEEING RED (1984)
    PICTURE DAY (2000, short)
    A LION IN THE HOUSE (2006)

    Bognar and Reichert are an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning duo based in Ohio.


  • Jeff Reichert
    Past Sundance docs:

    KOMBIT (2014, short)

    Reichert is a filmmaker, critic, and nephew of Julia Reichert. He is a co-founder/co-editor of online film journal Reverse Shot.

  • Julie Parker Benello
    Recent past Sundance docs:


    Benello is a co-founder of both Chicken & Egg Pictures and Gamechanger Films. She executive produced or co-executive produced several Sundance fiction alumni, most recently NANCY, THE TALE, and THE LONG DUMB ROAD.


  • Mijie Li

    This marks the first Sundance credit for Li. Previous work has included projects for Jessica Yu and Lixin Fan.

  • Yiqian Zhang

    This is also Zhang’s first Sundance project following a background in acquisitions and co-productions for Chinese television.

Executive Producers:

  • Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann
    Combined recent past Sundance docs:

    AMERICA TO ME (2018)
    THE PRICE OF FREE (fka KAILASH) (2018)
    MELTING ICE (VR) (2017)

    Philanthropist and social entrepreneur Skoll is the founder and chairman of Participant Media. His Skoll Foundation has been a major partner of the Sundance Institute for several years. He is also an executive producer of 2019 New Frontier title AQUARELA and of Premieres title THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND.

    Weyermann, Participant Media’s president of documentary films and television, was previously the director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program for several years and the director of the Open Society Institute’s arts and culture program before that. She also executive produced AQUARELA.


  • Lindsay Utz
    Past Sundance docs:

    QUEST (2017)
    GOOD: INTERNET CENSORSHIP (short) (2009, director)

    The Cinema Eye Honors winner for QUEST also previously cut the Oscar shortlisted feature doc BULLY.

Why You Should Watch:
In this expertly realized work, Reichert and Bognar present not only a clash of cultures and a microcosmic exploration of US/Chinese relations, but also a compelling snapshot of the economic impact of globalization on the American working class.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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