American Factory

In this documentary, hopes soar when a Chinese company reopens a shuttered factory in Ohio. But a culture clash threatens to shatter an American dream.

Year: 2019
Certificate: 12
Runtime: 1hr 50m
Director: Steven BognarJulia Reichert

Information Page:

Certain parts of the United States of America have become synonymous with the car making industry. Once such place was Dayton, Ohio. Once famous for it’s huge General Motors factory that employed thousands of Americans. In 2008, citing high fuel prices and decreased demand for the SUV and trucks produced by the plant, GM closed the plant and made their entire workforce redundant. With such a high amount of locals out of a job, the local area was impacted massively and many struggled to find work.

In 2014, the plant was purchased by the China-based Fuyao Glass Company. Fuyao were already successful in China for making glass for the automotive industry. They planned with the help of ex GMC staff, to reinvigorate the plant and the local economy by bringing much needed jobs and money to the local area.

Plowing billions of his own money into the plant, Fuyao owner Cao Dewang had what you could call an American dream. A beautiful mesh of American grit and Chinese efficiency. As the documentary develops he discovers the American Dream isn’t always what you wish for.

‘American Factory’ is a great reflection on the difference in culture between the way America and possibly the Western world in general is so different to that of China and most of the East. Where as at GMC, the staff worked for double the salary, at Fuyao, they are expected to work twice as hard for half the wage.

We see cultures clash regarding working hours, working conditions, the desire in the US for staff to be represented by unions and yet Mr Dewang declares he would rather shut the whole factory, than have staff working with union representation.

A collection of staff are brought from the Chinese factory to assist the new staff in the Ohio factory as to how to do better, improve efficiency. Workers who have left their families for months and years, all for the opportunity to work in the US. Instead of integration, a clear divide appears. A culture of us and them.

This is a fascinating watch. You see how cultures can clash and how when trying to introduce aspects of ones culture it can be very difficult. This works both ways as you also see the Original Chinese Staff, becoming more and more ‘Westernised’. Attitudes and opinions are changed.

They way the documentary is made is great. Most of the audio we hear and the images we see are straight from the factory floor. We see the good, the bad and the ugly and we hear it all from the workers themselves. Where any narration is done, it’s still from the workers and it really feels like the documentary makers were right in the middle of it all and left no stone unturned trying to get the the heart of its subject matter.

There is also a great follow up to this called American Factory: A conversation with the Obamas in which Former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama sit down with the filmmakers of this documentary and discuss the importance of storytelling. Maybe that might be my next review?

Have you seen this film? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!

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