Julia Reichert, Oscar-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker, Dead at 76

Julia Reichert. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Julia Reichert, a titan of American documentary filmmaking, died on December 1 after a battle with bladder cancer. She was 76. Steven Bognar, a frequent collaborator, confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter. Known for writing, producing, and directing incisive documentaries, the filmmaker bolstered the indie film industry in the United States, earning multiple Oscar nominations and one award for her work. A longtime supporter of indie films and social-issue media, Reichert co-founded the Film Fund, which led to the creation of the Independent Feature Project, where she was a member of the advisory board.

Born in Bordertown Township, New Jersey, in 1946, Reichert went on to study at Antioch College, where she met future collaborator and partner Jim Klein in 1968. Her storytelling career began at the Antioch student radio station, directing and hosting The Single Girl, a feminist radio program, later retitled Sisters, Brothers, Lovers, Listen. Upon graduation, the filmmaker, together with Klein, co-founded the still-operating New Day Films as a documentary film distribution cooperative to subvert a system that left female filmmakers like her without a means to distribute their films. Growing Up Female (1971) — an investigation of the societal problems faced by six women — was Reichert’s first work and served as her senior film. That documentary earned a place in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The acclaimed filmmaker went on to examine a variety of pressing subjects in her later works. From substance-use disorders in Methadone: An American Way of Dealing (1974); labor struggles in the Academy Award–nominated Union Maids (1976), Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists (1983), and The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (2009); and the performing arts in multiple films, Reichert tried to make sense of social institutions. Most recently, her untitled Dave Chappelle documentary premiered at Sundance in 2021. The Obama-produced film American Factory might be Reichert’s best-known feature. The look into the effects of the globalized auto industry through the reopened and previously abandoned GM plant in Dayton won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2020. Though she was in the midst of undergoing chemotherapy when she won, Reichert attended the ceremony and walked the stage with co-director Bognar to accept the award.

Julia Reichert, Acclaimed Documentary Filmmaker, Dead at 76