Award-winning Ohio Filmmaker Julia Reichert Brings Her Latest to Cleveland

Documentary film maker Julia Reichert stands by a video camera
Julia Reichert [Steven Bognar]
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Julia Reichert at her film-editing table circa 1973 [Eddie Roberts / Dayton Daily News]

Oscar-nominated Ohio documentarian Julia Reichert has 50 years of experience in filmmaking. Her latest collaboration with longtime partner Steve Bognar is “American Factory.”

Reichert said she and Bognar laid down some ground rules before filming the story of a Chinese manufacturer bringing new life to an abandoned Dayton truck plant.

Shawnea Rosser from "American Factory" [Steven Bognar]

“We made it clear that … we would have to have complete access. There would be no editorial control by the company at all,” she said. “The chairman said ‘yes.’ And to his credit, he never took that back.”

It took over 20 cameras to capture the action at the factory, in people’s homes and various locations in China. Working out the logistics was complex.

Rob Haerr & Wong He from "American Factory" [Ian Cook]

“Usually we'd sit at breakfast and say, like, ‘okay, what's on for today?’” Reichert said. “‘Is there a meeting? Did someone agree to an interview? Are we just going to go in and, like, walk the floor,’ which we often did. We had characters we'd always check in with every time, different ones. If there were meetings, we usually tried to have two cameras there so we could get lots of good footage.”

The filmmakers also faced the challenge of shooting sequences where no one was speaking English.

“Like all those scenes in China where people are singing and dancing, we had no idea what they were singing and dancing about,” Reichert said. “Sometimes we'd get the translations like a year later, because we didn't have money at the time to go through all that process of getting translations.”

She added that the Chinese factory management has been supportive of the project. “We showed it to them in a final, final cut, which we agreed to do,” she said. “Look, I'm sure they were squirming in their seats on a few scenes, but the way they reacted was: this is really fair.”

As a part of a retrospective of her films playing in a series at the Cinematheque in Cleveland, Reichert is bringing a rough-cut version of her latest documentary, “9TO5: The Story of a Movement.” The film traces the origins of the 1970s effort to support women in the workplace.

Karen Nussbaum from "9TO5 The Story of a Movement" [photographer unknown / Steven Bognar]

“I'm super proud and happy to be showing the film ‘9TO5’ in Cleveland, because a big chunk of it takes place in Cleveland,” she said. “It's a story about how a movement was built. … You try to evaluate how you empower women who are just totally not used to speaking in public, who always have to ask [their] husband before they take a step, who are just not used to being leaders. How do you build those women into leaders? Those are questions for now, too.”

Julia Reichert [Joanna Eldredge Morrissey]

On November 22, Julia Reichert will discuss her life and career in a free talk at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  That evening, she'll be at a screening of her Oscar-nominated feature "Union Maids" at the Cleveland Museum of Art

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