OHIO – Julia Reichert, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker behind “American Factory” whose films explored themes of race, class and gender, often in the Midwest, has died. She was 76.
She died Thursday night in Ohio from cancer, her family said Friday through a representative. She was diagnosed with stage four urothelial cancer in April 2018.
Often called the “godmother of American independent documentaries,” Reichart told the stories of ordinary Americans, from autoworkers dealing with both plant closures (2009’s “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”) and foreign investors (2019’s “American Factory”), to members of the American Communist Party (1983’s “Seeing Red”) to female labor activists in the 1930s (1976’s “Union Maids”).
In her 50 years of filmmaking, Reichert won two Primetime Emmy Awards and was nominated for four Oscars, winning one with her partner Steven Bognar for “American Factory” in 2020. She quoted “The Communist Manifesto” in her speech, saying “things will get better when workers of the world unite.”
Born in 1946 in Princeton, New Jersey, and raised in Bordentown and Long Beach Island with her three brothers, Reichert started finding her voice as a filmmaker at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, beginning her long residency in the state.
Her first film, “Growing Up Female” was a 49-minute student film made for $2,000 with then-partner Jim Klein that looked at the lives of six women, ages 4 through 35, and their socialization.
When they couldn’t find distribution, they founded their own company, New Day Films, which is still active to this day. In 2011, “Growing Up Female” was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry and is considered the first feature documentary of the modern women’s liberation movement.
Reichert is survived by Bognar, her daughter Lela Klein Holt and two grandchildren.