At the 92nd Academy Awards, two Dayton-area filmmakers were handed an Oscar for their work on “American Factory,” a documentary about the Fuyao Glass America factory in Moraine.
Yellow Springs residents Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar directed the film that uncovered the stories behind the struggles and triumphs at the glass factory. Before this win, Reichert received two other Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature for her work on “Union Maids” (1978) and “Seeing Red” (1984) and for Best Short Documentary alongside Bognar for “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” (2010).
Before securing the win at the 92nd Academy Awards, the film earned four other prestigious awards, including the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary Film and Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Documentary.
Despite their now global reach, Reichert and Bognar, as well as a large part of the crew, hail from Dayton and its surrounding cities. Reichert and Bognar both taught at Wright State University, and even hired a group of their former students to help them produce “American Factory.”
“We could not be more proud of Julia and Steve,” said Joe Deer, the chairman of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures at Wright State University. “Julia was a faculty member at Wright State for 28 years. Steve is an alum of the program and taught there for 10 years. They are still very much a part of our Wright State family. Everybody has just been following this so closely and with incredible pride and gratitude for the stories that they tell — and also for their connection to Wright State.”
Lisa Grisby of FilmDayton, a longtime friend and collaborator with the couple, also notes how important this win is for Dayton and Wright State University.
“The filmmakers in this town work together, support each other and believe in one another,” Grisby said. “Steve and Julia have both taught at Wright State University, so they’ve had their hand in helping form so many of the young filmmakers in town. They have nurtured this industry without a doubt.”
Kendra Cipollini of the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs, where the filmmakers live, was cheering them on from the theater’s Oscars-viewing party Sunday night.
“It’s pretty humbling to have them share the same space with us,” said Cipollini. “We are also super excited to be their home theater, somewhat. We all feel like we won. They are really a part of our community and have been for a long time.”
The Neon also held its own Oscar-viewing party, where owner Jonathon McNeal and the crowd erupted in cheers upon hearing the news.
“Everybody in the theater was screaming and cheering,” said McNeal. “We’re all very proud.”
When asked how the film’s success has impacted the future of the film-making industry in Dayton, each person credited the pair’s storytelling abilities with transforming the entire community of Dayton.
“They have the ability to tell a story in a way that is so personal and captures your attention without being judgmental,” said Grisby. “When you left this film, it didn’t leave you. When you left the theater, you still kept thinking about this film. It gives huge credit to them as filmmakers that they are able to disappear into the set and to allow the people at the factory to be real and talk about what’s going on.”
“I think another thing about Steven and Julia’s film is that it points toward the importance of not losing sight of the sort of everyday working-class city and how important it is outside of what’s going on in the U.S.,” said Cipollini. “We are a flyover state. Sometimes people forget that we live real lives and have real struggles.”
Liz Yong Lowe, a former student of the couple and an associate producer involved in the film, still marvels at the pair’s ability to uncover poetic truths about Dayton and its people.
“It’s uncanny to watch them interact with subjects and get them to be able to be comfortable enough to really spill their hearts out and be honest and frank,” said Yong Lowe. “You don’t see that often. It’s very rare. Steve and Julia will become a part of these subjects’ lives. They go to parties with them. They celebrate births and deaths. They are not just subjects. They are their fellow human being. They are family. I believe what Julia says is that she’s first a journalist, and secondly a filmmaker. They are there to capture the truth, and that’s what’s important. I don’t know if there’s any other film out there that has been able to capture the ending and rebirth of one building, of one factory, of one community that has relied on manufacturing.”
When asked what she sees for the future of film-making in Dayton and in other smaller cities across the world, Yong Lowe says that it all begins with the community created from the act of telling impactful stories.
“I hope that people can understand that you don’t have to live in one of the bigger cities to make impactful films,” said Yong Lowe. “Steve and Julia worked out of their home for most of the time that we were together, building and creating the film from start to finish. If you have a great community that is willing to be open, you can make films anywhere.”