Jeff Reichert, the producer of Netflix’s, “American Factory,” is still pretty bewildered about how their documentary got picked up by Higher Ground, the production company started by Barack and Michelle Obama. “It’s somewhat opaque to even us exactly how it all happened,” he explains in our recent webchat (watch the video above). He elaborates that Higher Ground had a pre-existing deal with Netflix and their film was also under Participant which had just done “Roma” with Netflix so it was an amazing moment of the planets aligning. He adds of Higher Ground, “I think it really resonated with them thematically, in terms of the kind of story it was. and it had the potential to become a film that creates a dialogue about issues we’re still grappling with as a country.”
“American Factory,” which just scored an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, details how a former GM plant outside Dayton, Ohio, which was shuttered in 2008, was purchased by Fuyao Glass. Fuyao, a Chinese company, reopens the factory and creates many jobs for the struggling community but soon encounters conflicts relating to the differing working cultures of China and the U.S. He shares the nomination with the film’s directors, Julia Reichert (his aunt) and Steven Bognar. While it’s the first nomination for Reichert, it’s the fourth nomination for Julia and the second for Bognar.
Reichert credits a lot of the access they were able to get on the corporate side of things to the short documentary Julia and Bognar made in 2009, “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” which showed the shuttering of the same facility used in “American Factory.” “When the plant was purchased, the folks involved in arranging the sale said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we documented the reopening of this legendary facility?’” The directors were interested in the project but were emphatic that they couldn’t take any money from Fuyao, they needed total access and total editorial control. To everybody’s surprise, the chairman of the company agreed. Reichert explains, “I think he was intrigued by what this might look like. I think it was a grand enterprise for him and it could be important. He had also seen ‘The Last Truck’ and he thought it was a good film.”
In preparation for the Oscar nominations, Reichert decided that he didn’t want to just sit and wait to hear if the film had made the cut. To make sure of this, he and his girlfriend went for a run right before the announcement began. Reichert made sure to bring his phone because he was sure he would get a text message indicating if the film had gotten nominated. “So we’re in the middle of Prospect Park, in the middle of the run, the sun was rising and I got a text from my cousin saying congratulations so in that moment I knew that we had gotten the nomination.” It was a great moment for Reichert, who adds, “We ended up walking back the rest of the way to our home because people kept calling us.”
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