Obamas unveil Netflix slate, “American Factory” set as first release

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s feature-length doc American Factory will be the first release from Higher Ground Productions, the prodco founded by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, in ...
April 30, 2019

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s feature-length doc American Factory will be the first release from Higher Ground Productions, the prodco founded by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, in partnership with global streamer Netflix.

The film (pictured) was acquired out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. documentary directing award, by Netflix and Higher Ground. It was produced by Participant Media, with Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert and Julie Parker Benello serving as producers. The film looks at the opening of a GM plant in Ohio by a Chinese billionaire, and the culture clash that ensues as working-class America comes into contact with Chinese industry.

A release date for the film has not yet been set.

American Factory is the first project from the Obamas’ multi-year content deal with Netflix, inked last year through Higher Ground, which is set to include docuseries and documentaries as well as unscripted and scripted series, all to be made available globally across Netflix services.

Higher Ground is also preparing four scripted projects for Netflix, alongside the docuseries Fifth Risk and the feature-length doc Crip Camp, all of which will roll out over the next several years.

Fifth Risk is based on the Michael Lewis book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, and will look at the unheralded work of everyday people guiding the American government and safeguarding the nation, according to a release. Higher Ground has not specified whether this is an acquisition or an original production or co-production.

Meanwhile, Crip Camp was acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. The film is currently in production with support from the Sundance Institute. The film explores the history of a summer camp for teenagers with disabilities that operated in the 1970s just down the road from Woodstock. It is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. Newnham, LeBrecht and Sara Bolder serve as producers, and Howard Gertler serves as EP.

“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” said President Obama in a statement. “Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.”

“We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives,” added Michelle Obama. “We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they’ll generate.”

“President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. “The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.”

(Photo by Ian Cook, courtesy of Netflix)

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.