Julia Reichert Obituary, Death – At her home in Yellow Springs, Julia Reichert passed away. She had been a lifelong professor of film at Wright State University and was referred to as the “godmother of American independent documentaries.” She clocked in at 76 years of age. As a teacher and filmmaker for 50 years, Reichert actively contributed to the development of the American documentary scene. Her movies, which she co-directed with Jim Klein, a longstanding Wright State professor, and later with Steven Bognar, a former member of the faculty and an alumnus, have given working women and men a voice and given their tales importance and dignity.
In February 2020, “American Factory,” a feature documentary that Reichert and Bognar co-won the Oscar for best feature documentary. Reichert stated during her award speech that “Our film is from Ohio and China.” “… People who put on a uniform and punch a clock in an effort to provide for their family could come from anywhere, though. The modern working world is becoming more and more difficult. When workers from around the world get together, things will improve, in our opinion. The 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Best Directing Award for American Documentary went to “American Factory.” Netflix has the documentary, which was made by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production business Higher Ground.
Reichert was praised by Joe Deer, creative director of Wright State Theatre in the School of Fine and Performing Arts, as a model educator, artist, colleague, and social force. She has dedicated her life to sharing the experiences of common, neglected people with compassion and a genuine understanding of their goals and problems, which Deer stated is what makes her such a powerful educator and mentor. “And many of those tales are spoken right here in our neighborhood, by Cincinnati hospitals, Dayton workers, and Yellow Springs residents. Personally, I’m very appreciative of the time I spent observing her at work, hearing her speak about education, and simply being moved by her enthusiasm and vision.
Many Wright State faculty, employees, students, and alumni participated in Reichert and Bognar’s films, including “American Factory.” The work Reichert did with students and Wright State alums, according to professor emeritus Stuart McDowell, who oversaw the former Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures for over 25 years, had the greatest influence. According to McDowell, she set an example by collaborating with them on her films. According to McDowell, “her life will carry on in the work she has done.” The generosity of spirit she demonstrated throughout her life was exceptional and will continue on in her pupils, who will teach future filmmakers.
It is a true blessing and gift. About 100 College of Liberal Arts students and faculty members joined Reichert and Bognar for a celebration in the Tom Hanks Center for Motion Pictures four days after they received their Oscar. Bognar worked on the movie while he was a professor at the College of Liberal Arts. The establishment of the Fuyao Glass America plant at the site of a former General Motors vehicle plant in Moraine is the subject of “American Factory,” which Reichert and Bognar both directed and produced. The film depicts the complex connection between Fuyao, the Chinese glass maker that owns the new facility, and its American workers, some of whom had previously worked at the GM truck manufacturing until it shut down in 2008, displacing more than 1,000 people.
The success of the company and the attempt to meld American and Chinese cultures is the subject of “American Factory,” according to Reichert, and the success is depicted from the perspective of the blue-collar workers as opposed to the plant owner, managers, engineers, and supervisors. They all define success differently for themselves, she said. The movie has so many points of view in part because of this. In that movie, everyone is experiencing difficult things. Everyone is working really hard. And you need to respect that and acknowledge the context of the footage you’re taking.
Reichert coached numerous aspiring filmmakers throughout his 28 years as a professor of film production at Wright State. She urged filmmaking students to accept the unpredictable nature of the production process at Wright State at the 2020 Oscar ceremony. When anything unsettling occurs, don’t flinch, said Reichert. Rolling with the blows is something you learn as a documentarian, she said. It differs greatly from fiction. That’s part of the appeal, too. According to an obituary in the New York Times, Reichert was at the forefront of a new generation of social documentarians who emerged from the early 1970s feminist and New Left organizations with a belief in film as an organizational instrument with a social goal.
Her films resembled oral histories since they didn’t use voice-over narration and instead relied on interviews in which the majority of their working-class subjects spoke for themselves. For the movies “Union Maids” from 1977, “Seeing Red” from 1984, and “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” from 2010, Reichert was nominated for Academy Awards. Both the Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media and the Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking went to Reichert and Bognar’s two-part PBS special “A Lion in the House.” The premiere of their 2021 movie, “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” was broadcast on the national PBS program “Independent Lens.”
It tells the story of the nationwide grassroots movement of secretaries and clerical employees who fought their employers for better benefits, opportunities, and wages. Dolly Parton’s popular song “Nine to Five” and the classic movie “Nine to Five” were both inspired by this trend. Julia Reichert: 50 Years in Film, a touring celebration of her career, was presented by the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State in 2019. Aside from its initial stop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the retrospective also made stops at The Neon in Dayton, Los Angeles, Houston, Minneapolis, Portland, Cleveland, and Minneapolis.
Reichert was a founding member of Indie Caucus, a PBS advocacy group that works to preserve the documentary genre. Leaders at Wright State recognized Reichert for his services to the film industry and the university. President Sue Edwards praised Julia for her great talent and high regard in the neighborhood. She made the world a better place by being a part of it. “We were deeply saddened to learn of Julia Reichert’s demise, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker. Gary Schmidt, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, stated that her accomplishments as a professor, artist, and ardent supporter of social justice have improved our society and nation.