Julia Reichert, Oscar-Winning ‘American Factory’ Documentarian, Dies at 76

Julia Reichert, Oscar-Winning ‘American Factory’ Documentarian, Dies at 76

Julia Reichert, whose 50-year career as a documentarian included a 2020 Oscar win for American Factory, has died after a battle with urothelial cancer. She was 76.

Reichert, her frequent collaborator in filmmaking, died at home in Yellow Springs, Ohio on Thursday night, according to The Hollywood Reporter HTML1.

Despite being undergoing chemotherapy before her Oscar win, she attended the 2020 Academy Awards. She walked up to Bognar to accept their award. Later, the pair won an Emmy award for American Factory .

Long regarded as a godmother of the indie film industry, the director, producer and writer also received Oscar nominations for Union Maids (1976), Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists (1983) and The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (2009).

Her first film, Growing Up Female (1971), was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry by being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

American Factory is a story about a Chinese billionaire who reopens a closed GM plant outside Dayton to make windshields. It shows American and Chinese workers working together in the midst of union-busting efforts and installing robotic technology.

After winning a directing award at the 2019 Sundance Film festival, the documentary — which is a follow-up of The Last Truck , that chronicled the final days of a once-thriving union store — won the support of Barack Obama’s Higher Ground production company as well as Netflix.

Higher Ground recalled Reichert in a statement as a “true giant .”


Julia Reichert was a pioneering filmmaker who dedicated her life to documenting historical and socially significant stories that gave voice and hope to many, especially the working class and women.” The statement continued. “Collaborating on the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory was an honour and privilege that Higher Ground will always treasure.” We know Julia’s talent, humanity, and dedication to mission-centric storytelling will continue inspire future creators around the world, including us .”


Reichert gave her Oscar speech in which she congratulated the “tough and inventive, great people” of Dayton and stated that American Factory was while it was set in Ohio and China, and had universal relevance.

She said, “It could be from anywhere that people put on uniforms, punch a time, trying to make families have a better lifestyle.” “Working people are finding it harder and more difficult these days. We believe that things can improve when workers around the world unite.”

Reichert’s films were shown at Sundance and Telluride, South by Southwest and Hot Docs, as well as on HBO, PBS, and other major festivals. Many of the films offer a history and perspective on American labor and the women’s movement, as well as a radical humanism.

“There’s a lot to Reichert’s documentaries that will make you angry, as should be given their subjects, but there’s also a lot of sweetness in these films too,” Barbara Ehrenreich stated in a 2019 essay in which she recapped Reichert’s films.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey on June 16, 1946, to Louis and Dorothy Reichert, Julia Reichert graduated in 1964 from Bordentown Regional High School. In 1971, faced with few distribution options for films by and about women, Reichert and Jim Klein co-founded New Day Films as a documentary film distribution cooperative. It is still in operation today.

Reichert was asked in June 2019 by CBC radio whether she wanted to be a filmmaker or make a difference in the world. She quickly replied: “Oh, certainly make a difference in the world… That was definitely on our minds.” I use ‘our’ because we really felt part of a big movement right at that time — the late ’60s into the mid-’70s and beyond.”

She claimed she didn’t call herself a filmmaker until other people gave it to her.

Growing up Female , Antioch College’s senior project examined women’s issues through six women and the forces that shaped their lives.

“It’s not radical or militant. Reichert stated that it only examines how women view themselves and the social institutions that affect them. “It’s not the kind of film that you want people who aren’t feminists or are not part of the women’s freedom movement to see and think, Oh, gosh! That’s me too. It’s happened to me. ‘”

Reichert and Klein’s next movie was Methadone: An American Way of Dealing (1974), which chronicled heroin addiction in the 1970s in Dayton, where they lived.

Their humanist take on society also was seen in Union Maids, about three women who served as Depression-era labor organizers, and Seeing Red, about Americans who joined the Communist Party and got caught up in the 1950s Red Scare backlash.

Reichert and Bognar’s A Lion in the House (2006), a four-hour, two-part PBS special about five families dealing with pediatric cancer, earned an Emmy for exceptional merit in nonfiction filmmaking and a Henry Hampton Award.

Their other films included Sparkle (2012), about Dayton dancer Sheri “Sparkle” Williams, and Making Morning Star (2016), centering on the making of an opera in Cincinnati; 9to5: The Story of a Movement (2020) and Determined (2020). The pair also directed an untitled documentary about Dave Chappelle’s series of comedy shows in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the summer of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival .

Bognar explained to THR , that his collaborations with Reichert often involved a multiyear commitment to each documentary.

He stated that American Factory was not flying in every month. We went there all the time and shot 1,200 hours of material. We became so familiar with the plant that we could simply walk in with ID badges and get through any door. It was almost like going to work. We weren’t making windshields, but it was the same as doing our job alongside everyone else. We had been there for more years than many people who actually worked there by year two or three.

Reichert served as a professor of film production at Wright State University in Dayton from 1985-2016 and was the 2018 recipient of the IDA Career Achievement Award. She also authored Doing It Yourself, a 1977 book on self-distribution in independent film.

After co-founding The Film Fund, a foundation that supported social media production, Reichert was a member the Independent Feature Project’s advisory board. This led to the creation and formation of the IFP.

Reichert, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2006 and went into remission that year with that cancer never returning, was diagnosed with Stage 4 urothelial cancer in April 2018.

Bognar is also survived by Joseph, Craig, and Louis Reichert; Lela Klein; Jeff Reichert, her nephew, who co-produced American Factory

;, and Beau Kleinholt, and Dorothy Kleinholt.

It would be very meaningful.” It would be very meaningful.”

8: 40 a.m. Updated with additional biographical details about Reichert.

2: 40 p.m. Updated with a statement from the Obamas’ Higher Ground.

Abid Rahman, Hilary Lewis and Hilary Lewis contributed to the report.

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