American Factory (2019)
IMDb rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%
The winner of the hotly contested Best Documentary Feature statue at this year’s Oscars, this absorbing documentary examines the opening of a Chinese-run factory in Ohio that hired thousands of jobless Americans, and how the early days of optimism soon gave way to tensions between the Chinese owners and the working-class Americans manning the plant.
The plan for the auto-glass factory, opened in an abandoned General Motors plant, was that it would save the small Ohio town where many of its residents had been left unemployed – and unemployable – in the post-industrial economy, in the wake of the sudden closing of the plant just before Christmas in 2008.
Two-thousand Americans were hired to supplement the Chinese work force, and it appeared that an international solution to a hyper-local crisis – the death of American industrial small towns – was just around the corner.
But when they hit the ground to investigate, filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, who filmed a previous documentary at the time of the closing of the original plant and were expecting to find an innovative win-win solution, found a situation that Rolling Stone calls “a cross-cultural car crash in slow motion”.
It goes on to write, “What we have here in this extraordinary case study is not just a failure to communicate but a profound cross-cultural misunderstanding. And like all of the truly great docs of the past 50 years, its ability to contain multitudes within a single captured moment speaks volumes.”