The Cleveland International Film Festival promotes artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition to enrich the life of the community.
March 30, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
The Fuyao Glass Company knew it had a story to tell.
Nine years ago, Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar told another story. Their documentary, “The Last Truck,” which screened at CIFF34, was about the closing of the General Motors Moraine truck assembly plant outside of Dayton, Ohio.
Fast forward to 2014: that same plant, now empty, was bought for $15 million by Chinese automotive glass manufacturer Fuyao. According to the Dayton Daily News, the deal by Fuyao was the largest Chinese investment in Ohio history. The company then invested another $600 million in refurbishing the plant.
“The team at Fuyao realized that what they were about to do was historic,” recount Reichert and Bognar. “They were going to bring life back to a huge, dead factory, hire thousands of Americans, bring over hundreds of Chinese nationals, and create the biggest factory in the world for the creation of automotive glass.”
During a visit to Ohio, one of the Chinese leaders at Fuyao met with representatives from the Dayton Development Coalition (DDC), and the idea of documenting this historic event came up. “The DDC folks knew our work, and said ‘why don’t you talk to Steve and Julia?’” say the filmmakers. And they did.
Bognar and Reichert began meeting with the Fuyao team and were intrigued by the project. The filmmakers had one stipulation—the film had to be independent. That meant that the directors would “have complete editorial control, own the film, take no funding from the company, and get full access,” says Reichert.
The company agreed. In fact, the filmmakers recall, the company’s Global Chairman Cho Tak Wong, said “let’s do it. . . . Let’s make a real documentary, not a promotional film.”
Reichert and Bognar were impressed with the chairman. They note that he “believes in transparency, and as a leader, he is very confident, a maverick, and he thought this story should be told.”
He also realized that there would be big challenges. But every good story has to have conflict and resolution.
As Fuyao updated the plant and brought it back to life as a functioning facility, the film crew had access to workers inside and outside the plant. Reichert and Bognar were “astonished” by the speed with which the Chinese engineers and leaders worked.
“They pushed the American contractors and construction workers to bring that factory back to life at a remarkable pace,” the filmmakers note. “But it’s a normal pace in China, where big things happen at a speed that would leave Americans dizzy.”
The crew needed to set aside their “cultural assumptions” and “learn to be careful not to judge things we were seeing from our own Ohio perspective,” they say.
During the screenings at CIFF, both Reichert and Bognar will be present, as will some of the factory workers from the film.
“We’re proud of this film,” conclude the two directors. “It’s a fast, funny, epic, and intimate look at a huge endeavor that speaks to global forces at work, launched right here in Ohio.”
—Anne M. DiTeodoro
PHOTO: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert “both are drawn to telling stories to make the world a better place, to generate com- passion and empathy, to move people to action, for social change,” they say. Photo by Eryn Montgomery.
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