In Memoriam of Julia Reichert

We are filled with immense grief from the passing of our beloved Nest-supported filmmaker Julia Reichert. She passed away in Yellow Springs, Ohio after a long battle with urothelial cancer, surrounded by the love of her partner Steven Bognar, daughter Lela Klein, and their family.

Julia Reichert 2016 Breakthrough Filmmaker Award
Julia Reichert

Julia Reichert was an Oscar® and Emmy®-winning independent documentary filmmaker, activist, professor, mentor, and champion of emerging filmmakers and the working class based in Ohio. Her evolutionary work focused on class, gender, health, and race in the lives of Americans.

In 2016, Julia was the recipient of our inaugural Chicken & Egg Award and embodied what a recipient of the honor should be: collaborative, generous, and committed to the communities she was part of. Prior to that, Julia was also an early recipient of a Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Celebration Grant that honored trailblazing, risk-taking, veteran women filmmakers. She was awarded the Career Achievement Award at the 2018 International Documentary Awards for her incredible contributions to documentary filmmaking. In 2019, a retrospective of her work, Julia Reichert: 50 Years in Film, organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and traveled to a dozen cities across the United States.

Kristine Jacobson, Julia Reichert, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Michele Stephenson, and Yoruba Richen look at the camera and smile. In the background is a screen with the Chicken & Egg Pictures logo.
From left to right: Kristine Jacobson, Julia Reichert, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Michele Stephenson, and Yoruba Richen at IDFA 2016

Julia became a filmmaker compelled to build a movement of intersectional feminism, where all women from all races and classes would feel welcomed. Her first film, Growing Up Female, was the first feature documentary of the modern Women’s Movement and was selected in 2011 for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Long before digital screenings, she traveled with a 16 mm projector across the US, using the film as an organizing tool. Julia was also closely involved in the local activism of the places she visited with her films. In 1971, frustrated with the lack of distribution options for films by and about women, she co-founded New Day Films, the democratically run documentary film distribution cooperative. Fifty-one years later, New Day Films is going strong and now has over 140 active members. 

“It really could be from anywhere, that people put on a uniform, punch a clock, trying to make their families have a better life,” she said. “Working people have it harder and harder these days, and we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.” 

–Julia Reichert during her Academy Award® acceptance speech for Best Documentary Feature

Still from American Factory. A worker wearing protective glasses works with a machine that is out of focus.
Still from American Factory 美国工厂

Her films Union Maids and Seeing Red were nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature, as was The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. Her film A Lion in the House (an ITVS co-production), about kids fighting cancer, premiered at Sundance Film Festival, and won a Primetime Emmy® for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking. Julia’s film American Factory 美国工厂, a film she worked on during her Chicken & Egg Award year, won the US Documentary Directing Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the Best Documentary Spirit Award, the Best Documentary Gotham Award, the Outstanding Nonfiction Feature and Outstanding Direction awards at the Cinema Eye Honors, and the Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature. It was the first film released by Higher Ground Productions, the production company created by Michelle & Barack Obama. 

Julia Reichert looks at Steven Bognar and smiles. Steven Bognar looks at the camera and smiles. Both of them are in front of a blue photo call with white cameras.
Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar at IDFA 2016

Julia’s film 9to5: The Story of a Movement, which she also worked on during her Chicken & Egg Award year, was an official selection of SXSW, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, AFI DOCS Film Festival, and DOC NYC. The film tells the story of secretaries rising up and organizing to fight for their rights and was nominated for a Peabody Award.  

She is the author of Doing It Yourself, the first book on self-distribution in independent film, and was an Advisory Board member of IFP. Julia co-wrote and directed the feature film Emma and Elvis. Over the decades, she mentored hundreds of emerging filmmakers. Julia taught for 28 years at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Still from 9to5: The Story of a Movement. White and black photograph of a person with a speaker close to their mouth. In the back, there are people with posters.
Still from 9to5: The Story of a Movement

She lived a life dedicated to highlighting the experiences of the working class and celebrating and pushing forward the careers of new, talented filmmakers. As we grieve her loss, we are comforted by knowing that her legacy lives on through her body of documentary films and the powerful impact she had on the documentary community. We will continue to honor her by supporting emerging filmmakers that, like her, are building a world shaped by the power of documentary films.  

Rest in power, Julia.

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