The culture of the Gem City is changing, and Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert are documenting it on film.
The region’s most acclaimed filmmakers will host the theatrical premiere of their latest work “American Factory” at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton.
Before that, they sat down for a chat with “What Had Happened Was” host Amelia Robinson.
SEE EXCERPTS FROM THE CONVERSATION BELOW.
Julia and Steve, both groundbreaking artists in their own right, discuss American Factory, the Obamas, being wined and dined by Netflix, what brought them together as filmmakers and life partners, and their very different upbringings.
Visit gofobo.com/AmericanFactoryGA for tickets.
Indiewire.com called “American Factory” “an eye-popping look at the differences between American and Chinese workers” and a top contender for a 2020 Oscar.
The award-winning film follows the creation of the Chinese-owned automotive glass-factory Fuyao Glass America in the same building that had once housed a General Motors assembly operation in Moraine.
Steve and Julia, a Yellow Springs couple together more than 30 years, received an Academy Award nomination in the “Best Documentary (short subject)” category for their 2009 HBO film “The Last Truck” about the closing of that very same GM plant in Moraine.
President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, in partnership with Netflix, acquired the film in April. It will be the company’s first release on Netflix.
The free Dayton screening will be two days before Netflix is set to stream the documentary.
In an interview for the “What Had Happened Was” podcast, Bognar said the premiere will be top-notch.
“Netflix is sponsoring it. They are bringing in their own sound system and projector. It is going to look and sound great,” he said. “We are so excited it is going to play in Dayton, Ohio, before it plays anywhere else theatrically and even before it is on Netflix. We hope that everyone will come.”
Can’t make the free screening and don’t have Netflix? “American Factory” is set to be screened at the Neon movie theater, 130 E. 5th St., Dayton, from Wednesday, Aug. 21 to Tuesday, Aug. 27.
There will be a Q&A with Bognar and Reichert at the 2:30 p.m. screening Saturday, Aug 24.
The film will also be screened at the Little Art Theatre, 247 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs, Wednesday to Tuesday, Aug. 21-27.
The pair will attend a special screening of the film at the Little Art at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21.
ABOUT THE PODCAST
The Marconi nominated “What Had Happened Was” is a podcast for Dayton, powered by Dayton.com. You won't believe the stories that come from right here. Host Amelia Robinson shares the best tales from the Gem City, Land of Funk and Birthplace of Aviation: Dayton, Ohio.
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Excerpt from the podcast interview with Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert.
AMELIA: When you started making these films, did you know you were making the “Last Truck” or did you know you were making “American Factory?” Did you sketch it all out? Plan it all out?
STEVE: No, no, no, we show up and we jumped into the situation. The worst thing you can do is go in with a preconceived notion of the story because then you won’t do the real story. Patience and hanging out and spending real time — that is how you can start to really listen to the rhythms of what’s going on, get to know people. But with “The Last Truck,” actually, they announced the plant was going to close.
We thought we should get down there and go see what’s going on. And I call Tom Gnau, your colleague at the “Dayton Daily News” and said, ‘Tom, where would you go?’ Was there like a place you’d go first. Because we knew he had covered it a lot over the years. And he mentioned the bar the Upper Deck. He says go get lunch at the Upper Deck, which we did. And we did that one day. And then we did it the next day. And we did it the next day. And we just started having conversations with people.
We were immediately telling people, “look, we make documentaries. This is a really important story. It feels like huge hard news for our town. But we don’t know what to do. But what’s your job? Do you have a connection to the factory, which was right next to the bar.” And we just started getting to know people. And pretty soon we realized this is a big, big story that we should try to tell.
JULIA: I think any film you go into, you kind of put your toe in the water… What’s the story? Because then you start imagining for yourself what the story is.
You just try to meet people to kind of get a sense of what’s going on. You explore this, you explore that. At some point along the way you have, “I think I see what the story is.” But that could be like a year or more. “The American Factory” shooting took us three years.
STEVE: We started filming American Factory at the beginning of 2015. And we finished at the end of 2017.
AMELIA: What’s funny about that is it feels like the (GM) plant just closed to me.
JULIA: Yeah. It does to a lot of people around here.
STEVE: To sort of speak to what Julia’s talking about here, we filmed all kinds of stuff that is not in that movie (“The Last Truck”). When they announced the GM plant was closing, there was all this energy around what can we do and what should we do.
And we’re at all these meetings. And we filmed a ton of these meetings. We found news stuff. And then DHL at the same time was closing, and we filmed down there. And we just weren’t sure what was going to be the story. But as time went on, we realized the most powerful story is to try to tell the story of this factory closing through the lives of the people who work on that factory floor.
And then we really focused on that and realized that’s the heart of it.
AMELIA: What was the biggest surprise you came across telling these stories?
JULIA: I guess each film would sort of have its own most surprising thing. But I don’t know what Steve would say. But what strikes me most about what I learned working on “The Last Truck” was how diverse that population on that floor was and how people got along.
There were black workers. There were white workers. There were immigrant workers. There were women. I was shocked that there were about a third women, and it was about 50 percent African-American.
I don’t know what I expected. And the people joked around. They didn’t live in the same neighborhoods, but they work together and were very close in that plant. So the family sense and how diverse it was. And also, I guess, maybe I’ve said this, but how devastating it was for those people to lose that job.
It wasn’t just losing a job. It was losing a sense of who they are of their whole future. And what it was going to be. It was like the floor falling out from under them. That ended up being very surprising.
STEVE: For generations, we had jobs in Dayton where you didn’t need to go to college, but you could have a middle-class life. You could have that ranch home. You could have a home in Dayton, and you could send your kids to college. You could have a car. It was a blue-collar middle class. It wasn’t go-to-college middle class. It was a working person’s middle class, men and women together.
One thing we learned is that this led to a lot of cultural explosion in this town.
Ed Warren who works at Fuyao said, “Look, when you got middle-class homes, or ranch homes, you’ve got garages, and you’ve got basements. And then you’ve got funding for the arts in the schools, music programs. And so kids are taking music in schools. And then they’re told to go home and rehearse. And so then they get together with their friends. And suddenly you’ve got a garage or you’ve got a basement.
So then you could create a band. And suddenly you’ve got the Ohio Players and Lakeside, whatever rock’n’roll band.
In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in Dayton, you had this kind of cultural explosion because you had the fertile ground support it takes to make that happen. And one thing we felt so much that was such a loss is in the hollowing out of our sort of middle class of this town. The cultural losses are significant, too.
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