“The chairman’s a maverick — he’s very much his own person, an independent self-made business guy,” said Bognar.
“He’d seen our earlier film and liked it, and so he took a chance on us,” he added, referring to 2009’s “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.”
In the new documentary’s early scenes, genuine attempts by the US and Chinese workers to bond with their new colleagues, including fishing and shooting lessons and shared Thanksgiving dinners, appear to bear some fruit.
But as the new Chinese owners become alarmed by heavy financial losses, they fire the American middle managers and increasingly invoke their Chinese replacements’ sense of nationalistic pride to spur harder work, leaving the workforce ever-more divided.
Despite promises, wages remain frozen far below those of the GM era, while workers’ attempts to unionize and confront slipping safety standards are aggressively shut down from above.
“The cultural chasm was wider than people anticipated,” said Bognar, noting that the new Chinese owners felt equally baffled and let down by the attitudes of US workers.
“To their credit, as the pressure mounted they did not kick us out, they certainly could have kicked us out at any point,” he added.
– ‘Sense of unease’ –
While the factory in Moraine, Ohio is of symbolic significance due to its size and legacy, it is not unique — Chinese-owned factories are now abundant across the American South and Midwest.
Like Fuyao, many are housed in the same buildings formerly shut down by American bosses who shipped jobs overseas to Mexico and elsewhere.
“You’re getting a slice of what globalization really looks like on a human level,” said Reichert, adding: “I think the film leaves you with a sense of unease.”
Nobody has tapped into that disquiet better than President Donald Trump, whose 2016 victory was built on successes in Ohio and nearby Michigan and Wisconsin.
For Ohio-based Reichert and Bognar, who have spent years interviewing blue-collar workers, that result was no surprise.
“We saw that coming, being in Ohio — the enthusiasm, the yard signs,” said Reichert. “Hillary Clinton was not well liked.”
Trump promised the region’s laid-off workers they would get back their jobs. Earlier this year, another enormous GM factory in nearby Lordstown, Ohio became the latest to close.
But in a strange quirk, even as Chinese investment in the US has plummeted by over 80 percent under Trump’s tariff war, jobs like those provided by Fuyao have become an important lifeline.