Documentary Spotlight

'American Factory,' 'For Sama,' 'Honeyland' Filmmakers Share Backstories of Oscar-Nominated Docs

11:15 AM 1/14/2020

by Annie Howard, Sharareh Drury, Tyler Coates , and Rebecca Keegan

The filmmakers behind each of the movies share the backstories of how they made their films and why they were drawn to their subjects.

From left: 'American Factory,' 'For Sama' and 'Honeyland'
From left: 'American Factory,' 'For Sama' and 'Honeyland'
Courtesy of Films

American Factory, For Sama and Honeyland are three of the films that will be vying for best documentary feature at this year's Oscars.

Below, the filmmakers behind each of the movies share the backstories of how they made their films and why they were drawn to their subjects.

  • 'American Factory'

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    Dayton, Ohio, "is known as a blue-collar place that has a great history of invention and a great history of manufacturing," says Julia Reichert, who directed American Factory with Steven Bognar. "I think that's partly why the chairman, [Fuyao Glass Industry Group] chairman Cao [Dewang], chose Dayton as where he was going to have his American factory."

    Reichert said she believes Cao chose the General Motors plant because of her previous film The Last Truck: Closing of a General Motors Plant: "That film, the closing of the plant, the leaving of the American capitalist and then the coming of a Chinese capitalist to our town to offer jobs to people," all contributed to Cao's choice.

    Reichert argued that American Factory is ultimately an examination of power. "In this small little factory, you see the power that those jobs, that plant, have over people's lives. You see the power of what's going on in our country, capitalism-wise," she explained.

    Read more here.

  • 'For Sama'

    Courtesy of PBS

    Before war reached Aleppo, it was one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the largest city in Syria. Waad al-Kateab was a marketing student living there when military confrontation against anti-government forces began in 2012, turning Aleppo into a war zone assailed by gunfire and air strikes. When al-Kateab spoke with THR amid the third anniversary of the recapture of Aleppo by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, her pain over being one of the last survivors to leave the city was clear.

    “There is this feeling of loss which will never leave,” al-Kateab says. "You can’t just forget. You can’t ignore that feeling."

    Al-Kateab was among many activists who documented the Battle of Aleppo, a conflict arising from Syria’s civil war — the second-deadliest war of the 21st century. She connected with codirector Edward Watts (Escape From ISIS) after finding refuge in London with her family, and they worked through 500 hours of footage to tell a story not just of war but of people affected by it.

    "From the point of view of us as victims, people usually don’t care about us," she says. "They don’t look at the real people who are behind the scenes — the laughter and the hope normal people are creating just to stay alive."

    Read more here.

  • 'Honeyland'

    Samir Ljuma

    Aremote village in the mountains of Macedonia is the setting for Honeyland, a documentary by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov that follows Hatidze Muratova as she maneuvers through the wild and treacherous landscape to collect honey using primitive beekeeping techniques. What begins as an intimate nature doc and character study soon turns into an emotional thriller: When a nomadic family moves in next door to the home Hatidze shares with her mother, their attempts to collect honey threaten the bees' ecosystem and Hatidze's livelihood.

    Kotevska and Stefanov described, in an email exchange with THR, what drew them to Honeyland's setting and how Hatidze's story slowly unfolded in front of their cameras over a four-year shoot.

    How were you introduced to Hatidze, and what made you interested in following her for the film?

    TAMARA KOTEVSKA Honeyland is a four-year adventure that started with the discovery of the primordial-looking beehives on the steep canyon cliffs of River Bregalnica, central Macedonia. As a matter of fact, we came to this area with an assignment to do research for a short documentary about the river. But discovering the beehives, and therefore discovering Hatidze, completely changed our motivation about the story we wanted to make. Witnessing the incredible life energy this woman possesses as a complete opposite of her extremely poor life conditions, also the rare profession she has, was the strongest motive for us to keep thinking about the documentary in this direction and stay faithful to shooting in extreme conditions.

    Read more here.