American Factory

American Factory (Chinese: 美国工厂) is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, about Chinese company Fuyao's factory in Moraine, a city near Dayton, Ohio, that occupies Moraine Assembly, a shuttered General Motors plant. The film had its festival premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is distributed by Netflix and is the first film produced by Barack and Michelle Obama's production company, Higher Ground Productions.[1][2][3] It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[4]

American Factory
MandarinMěiguó Gōngchǎng
Directed by
Produced by
  • Jeff Reichert
  • Julie Parker Benello
Music byChad Cannon
  • Steven Bognar
  • Aubrey Keith
  • Jeff Reichert
  • Julia Reichert
  • Erick Stoll
Edited byLindsay Utz
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • January 25, 2019 (2019-01-25) (Sundance)
  • August 21, 2019 (2019-08-21) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Mandarin


In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.


Filmed from February 2015 until the end of 2017, Reichert and Bognar were granted filming access by Fuyao at both their Ohio and Chinese plant locations. They were inspired to make this film as the events they aimed to depict were taking place in the same Moraine Assembly plant once occupied by General Motors, which was the central topic of their 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary short The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.[5]

The Mandarin Chinese language portions of the film were facilitated by the inclusion of two Chinese filmmakers, Yiqian Zhang and Mijie Li, one or both of whom would travel to Ohio monthly. The directors credit these two as essential in providing a connection to the Chinese subjects depicted in the film.[6]


The filmmakers implemented a fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaking approach, in which no dialogue external to the subjects of the film is included, and the sounds of the factory and the dialogue of the workers is prioritized. In order to make focal such an audio/visual approach, the filmmakers implemented the use of lavalier microphones to effectively balance worker dialogue amid noise emanating from the factory's machinery. The voice-over narration provided by the factory workers was often recorded at their respective homes, independently from the factory setting. According to Bognar, implementing the film's narration in this way to create an effect of depicting a worker's inner monologue.[6]


After the film's screening at Sundance, it garnered wide acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 96% based on reviews from 89 critics, with an average of 8.38/10. The site's consensus reads: "American Factory takes a thoughtful – and troubling – look at the dynamic between workers and employers in the 21st-century globalized economy."[7] On Metacritic it has a weighted average score of 86 out of 100 based on 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[8]

David Edelstein of New York Magazine wrote: "It’s a great, expansive, deeply humanist work, angry but empathetic to its core. It gestures toward the end of the working world we know – and to the rise of the machines."[9] Eric Kohn at IndieWire described it as "A fascinating tragicomedy about the incompatibility of American and Chinese industries."[10]

The film won Best Documentary Feature at the 2020 Academy Awards as well as the Independent Spirit Award for the same category.[11][12]


Home media

American Factory is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2020 as part of The Criterion Collection.[13]

See also


  1. Fleming Jr., Mike (February 1, 2019). "Netflix Acquiring Sundance Documentary 'American Factory'". Deadline Hollywood.
  2. "'American Factory': When A Chinese Company Takes Over An Ohio Factory". NPR. August 21, 2019.
  3. Gonzalez, Sandra. "Barack and Michelle Obama's production company scores first Oscar nomination". CNN. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
  4. "American Factory" wins Best Documentary Feature-Oscars on YouTube
  5. Wilkinson, Alissa (August 21, 2019). "Work is going global. American Factory's directors explain how they captured its challenges". Vox. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  6. Wilkinson, Alissa (August 21, 2019). "Work is going global. American Factory's directors explain how they captured its challenges". Vox. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  7. "American Factory". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  8. "American Factory". Metacritic. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  9. David Edelstein (August 23, 2019). "The Obamas' Netflix Doc American Factory Gestures Toward the End of the Working World". New York Magazine.
  10. Kohn, Eric (January 26, 2019). "American Factory' Review: A Cross-Cultural Working-Class Doc, Via 'The Office' – Sundance". IndieWire.
  11. "'American Factory' Co-Director, Battling Cancer, Accepts Win for Best Documentary Feature". The Hollywood Reporter.
  12. "The 92nd Academy Awards | 2020". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. February 9, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  13. "Netflix's 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Added to Criterion Collection". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 30, 2020.
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