To celebrate the release of American Factory on this day in 2019, we’re taking a look back at its director Julia Reichert’s incredible career.
Julia Reichert was an American filmmaker and activist. In the late sixties, Julia began her lifelong involvement with interviewing and storytelling, and with feminism. She worked at the student radio station at Antioch College, WYSO FM. A year after joining, Julia created and hosted her own radio show on WYSO called “The Single Girl.” This is believed to be possibly the first openly feminist radio show in the United States.
A year after that, Julia directed and produced her first film, Growing Up Female. The film focuses on the lives and experiences of six different women and girls in the early 1970s, highlighting the societal expectations, stereotypes, and challenges they face as they navigate their roles and identities. Composed of interviews and observational footage, the film sought to shed light on the ways in which traditional gender norms and expectations impact women’s lives and limit their opportunities.
Growing Up Female was not only Julia’s very first film, it is also thought to be the very first film of the modern women’s movement.
Growing Up Female was not only Julia’s very first film, it is also thought to be the very first film of the modern women’s movement. It was also one of the first films to give voice to the female experience through the documentary medium in general. The film was controversial yet impactful, used by feminists across the country to educate the public and spread the word about the movement.
Frustrated with the low offers she was getting from distribution companies, Julia and her partner, Jim Klein, decided to distribute the film themselves. They formed a new distribution company, New Day Films, along with feminist filmmakers Amalie R. Rothschild and Liane Brandon.
In 1976, Julia combined her passion for feminism with that of another highly important issue: labor unions. Union Maids focuses on the lives and stories of three courageous women activists who were involved in the labor movement during the 1930s.
Unlike Growing Up Female, Union Maids is a historical documentary, and it’s a fantastic addition to history. The documentary not only highlights the significant contributions of these women to the labor movement but also sheds light on the broader historical context of labor struggles, gender roles, and the political climate of the time. Union Maids was nominated for an Academy Award in 1977, Julia’s first nomination of four.
In 2008, Julia found out that the Moraine Plant, a General Motors factory in Moraine (OH) was closing.
In 2008, Julia found out that the Moraine Plant, a General Motors factory in Moraine (OH) was closing. She decided to create The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant to document its final days and the impact of the closure on its workers and the local community. She interviewed hundreds of the nearly 3,000 workers at the plant who would be losing their jobs. She was denied access to film inside the plant, so she conducted her interviews in the entrances and exits of the plant and provided Flip video cameras to workers so they could capture the last moments of the running of the plant. The Last Truck is a poignant and intimate examination of the profound impact of the closure on its workers and the local community.
With her next film, American Factory, Julia continued her focus on the Moraine plant, documenting the occupation of the plant by a new Chinese windshield manufacturer, Fuyao. What results is a nuanced exploration of the clashing of values between two different working cultures as the new American workers attempt to unionize to combat what they believe are unfair labor practices at Fuyao.
In a review of American Factory, FF2 contributor Beatrice Viri states, “American Factory is a well-made film, displaying raw emotion of workers that allows the viewer to empathize, yet also reminds us that not all values are universal. Despite these differences, we also see the bonds made between Chinese and American workers. We see faces behind big-name cogs, and how culture plays a significance in thought processes. But we’re also forced to ask if this is truly culture, or a need that has sprouted due to demand.”
Most recently, Julia made 9 to 5: The Story of a Movement, documenting the real-life activist movement that inspired Jane Fonda’s feature film 9 to 5.
Most recently, Julia made 9to5: The Story of a Movement, documenting the real-life activist movement that inspired Jane Fonda’s feature film 9 to 5. She also produced and directed tapings of comedy specials by Dave Chappelle, 8:46 and Dave Chappelle: Live in Real Life.
Julia’s films are special because they document pieces of history in incredible and impactful ways. But the documentaries are also pieces of history themselves, giving voice to people and subjects for the very first time. In 2020, Julia won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for American Factory. She made a statement for FF2 about what she’d like to tell other female filmmakers, which is very fitting for her career: “We don’t have to do it the way the boys have done it. We can do it the way women want it done, whatever it is, and sisterhood.”
© Julia Lasker (8/21/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Julia’s full statement (above) to FF2’s Nikoleta Morales after winning her 2022 Oscar in context here.
Read what Julia said about receiving support from Barack & Michelle Obama here.
Read Beatrice Viri’s review of American Factory here.
Learn more about New Day Films here.
Watch Growing Up Female here.
Watch Union Maids here.
Watch American Factory here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Julia Reichart along with her husband/partner Steven Bognar & their producer Jeff Reichert (Julia’s nephew) receive a well-earned Oscar for their film American Factory. Photo Credit: Jennifer Graylock (2/9/20). Alamy 2F8ABRG
Bottom Photo: From Women Make Movies‘ “In Memoriam: WMM Mourns the Loss of Julia Reichert.”