Across her more than 50 years as a filmmaker, Reichert received four Academy Award nominations and one win, two Primetime Emmys, a Director’s Guild Award and two Peabody Award nods. Her documentaries, including Oscar nominees “Union Maids,” “Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists” and “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” dealt with themes of gender, class, race and the global economy.
Reichert and her partner Steven Bognar frequently collaborated together, including on their best documentary feature winner “American Factory,” “Dave Chappelle: Live in Real Life,” “8:46,” “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” “Making Morning Star,” “Sparkle,” “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” and “A Lion in the House.”
After being born and raised in Bordtentown Township, N.J., Reichert graduated from Antioch College in 1970 — after briefly dropping out to hitchhike to California during the late ’60s — and released her first documentary, “Growing Up Female,” in 1971. The film detailed the socialization of women at different points in their lives and was the first documentary of the Women’s Liberation Movement. It was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry in 2011.
In a 2020 interview with Variety, Reichert recalled the moment she found out her 1976 documentary, “Union Maids,” was nominated for an Oscar while she was living in a political commune in Ohio.
“We didn’t even know we were in the running,” she said. “We were bowled over and like, ‘Holy shit.’ At that point, we were very young leftists, so Hollywood was not something we admired.”
After two more nominations in 1984 and 2010, she finally took home the Oscar in 2020 for “American Factory,” about the clash of cultures when a Chinese company reopens a shuttered GM plant in Moraine, Ohio. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, where it won best director of a U.S. documentary, and was later picked up by Netflix and the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions as the company’s first acquired title.
She and Bognar followed that up with 2020’s “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” about the National Association of Working Women, and two projects with comedian Dave Chappelle. Together, they made the critically acclaimed performance special “8:46,” about the murder of George Floyd, and the unreleased “Dave Chappelle: Live in Real Life,” about the comedian’s performances during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
In addition to her filmmaking, Reichert was a professor of film production at Wright State University for 28 years.
“Julia Reichert is one of the most important and influential faculty members [Wright State University] has ever known,” Joe Deer, artistic director of the Wright State Theatre in the School of Fine and Performing Arts, said in a statement. “What makes her such an impactful educator and mentor is that she’s spent her life telling the stories of everyday, overlooked people with compassion and real appreciation for their dreams and struggles. And many of those stories are told in our own backyard — hospitals in Cincinnati, workers in Dayton, her neighbors in Yellow Springs. I’m personally so grateful for my years watching her work, talking about teaching and just being inspired by her energy and vision.”
Reichert said of her cancer diagnosis to Variety: “What I have is actually incurable and fatal, but I don’t feel daunted by that. I feel like, OK, I’ve accepted that I’m not going to see my grandkids go to college or probably even go to high school because they’re fairly little, 6 and 9. I understand that now, and that’s my life.”
She is survived by Bognar, daughter Lela Klein Holt, three brothers, two grandchildren and a nephew.