Obamas Discuss First Movie Release as Producers: "It's Not an Editorial"

Chuck Kennedy/Netflix

A clip of an upcoming conversation between the former First Couple and 'American Factory' co-directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar reveals a desire for titles that allow "people to be able to get outside of themselves."

In a new conversation promoting their first release as film producers, Barack and Michelle Obama are offering more details about their post-White House roles in entertainment and the kinds of stories they're looking to support with their banner Higher Ground Productions.

A clip of a conversation released Tuesday between the former First Couple and the directors of the Netflix release American Factory revealed that Higher Ground will support both scripted and unscripted titles, seek out a diverse range of material and look for stories that "hel[p] people understand something they didn't before," in Barack's words. The streamer will release the full conversation Aug. 21, when American Factory releases on the platform.

While the conversation was nominally about the documentary, which follows workers who join a new American factory opened by a Chinese billionaire, it also addressed why the Obamas got into film producing in the first place. At the top of the clip, co-director Julia Reichert asked the couple why they formed their production banner in the first place. Barack responded, "One way at looking at what we've both been doing for the last 20 years, maybe most of our careers...was to tell stories. We want to be in relationships with people and connect with them and work together with them," he started

"You have to know their stories. You have to know them." Reichert responded. "That is exactly what we do." Reichert then detailed the thought process behind her film: She noticed a plant was about to close and wanted to learn about what the people who worked their thought about it, she said.

"We want to give voice to people who don't appear onscreen," her directing partner Steven Bognar added. "Working people, their stories, their struggles, their hopes [are] equally compelling to superheroes."

Michelle added that she saw her background "reflected in this film" in a shot of workers entering the plant in their uniforms.

"We all have a sacred story, a story that gives us meaning and purpose in how we organize our lives," Barack offered. "If you know someone, if you talk to them face-to-face, you can forge a connection. You may not agree with them on everything, but there's some common ground to be found and you can move forward with them together."

When Reichert asked why the former First Couple picked American Factory as their first release for Higher Ground, Michelle praised the filmmakers' journalistic approach to their subjects: “One of the many things I love about this film, this project that you two did together, is that you let people tell their own story. American Factory doesn’t come in with a perspective; it’s not an editorial. I mean you truly let people speak for themselves, and that is a powerful thing that you don’t always see happen,” she said.

Later in the clip, Barack offered more background on the couple's intentions for Higher Ground, saying, "A good story is a good story, whether that's in a documentary like yours or if it's a scripted story that helps people understand something they didn't understand before, we want to see if we can give voice to that." Michelle added that Higher Ground would reflect the tastes of both her and Barack, which would diversify the titles that the production banner worked with.

"We want people to be able to get outside of themselves and experience and understand the lives of somebody else, which is what a good story does," Obama added.