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David Filipi, Director, Film/Video
Sep 27, 2019
Before our monthlong series Julia Reichert: 50 Years in Film gets rolling, read some thoughts on the filmmaker and her career from David Filipi, the Director of Film/Video for the Wex and lead organizer of the series. Following its run here, the retrospective will travel to venues nationwide.
In May 2016, Julia Reichert reached out to me and my Wexner Center colleagues with a proposal. Earlier that year, Julia was among the recipients of an inaugural Breakthrough Filmmaker Award from Chicken & Egg Pictures (now, simply called a Chicken & Egg Award). The award is meant to help women documentary filmmakers “break through” to the next level, but for Julia, with decades of work as an independent filmmaker behind her, the word took on a different meaning. The committee that nominated Julia also hoped that the award might push women filmmakers into a more national spotlight, giving them additional much-deserved recognition while simultaneously helping the entire field. A retrospective marking her decades in film was proposed by Chicken & Egg Pictures, and the Wexner Center, in concert with our friends at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, began to formulate a series that would realize the intention behind Julia’s award.
Julia (along with longtime collaborators Steven Bognar and Jim Klein) has been a near-spiritual presence at the Wexner Center almost from the day it opened in 1989. Her films have shown on our screens, she has received support through our Film/Video Studio program, and over the years she has chaperoned carload after carload of her filmmaking students from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, to see a film or hear from a visiting filmmaker in Columbus at the Wex.
Two events that stand out to me in my nearly 25 years at the Wex involve films made by Julia. In 2006, we presented two screenings of Julia and Steve’s epic A Lion in the House, which followed five families coping with the crisis of having kids with cancer. A few days after the screenings, we hosted a community event featuring a panel consisting of Julia and Steve, hospice experts, public health officials, doctors, and staff from Ohio State’s Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. As a curator, we often show documentaries that are enjoyed by an audience but that don’t necessarily lead to immediate action. This afternoon was different. The capacity crowd was comprised largely of people touched by cancer: people living with cancer, survivors, those who had lost loved ones, health care professionals and advocates, and so on. It was practical, inspiring, informative, sobering, and enlightening from moment to moment. Again, as a curator, it is the ideal to help create an environment for a film to be received in such a manner.
Almost exactly four years later, the Wex hosted a screening of Julia and Steve’s film The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, a documentary about the looming shutdown of an assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, and its impact on the workers and larger community. Julia and Steve invited several people featured in the film, people who lost their jobs just over a year earlier. The workers were a poignant addition to the postscreening Q&A, but what I remember is our dinner after the screening, which ultimately provided a glimpse into what makes Julia such a gifted documentarian. The large group of us settled in at a nearby sushi restaurant, and as dinner progressed, I began to fully appreciate the relationships and friendships that Julia and Steve had formed with these people. The mutual respect, understanding, and compassion between filmmakers and subjects was palpable, and one could only feel honored to be a part of the occasion.
It is not hyperbole to call Julia the godmother of independent film in central Ohio, if not the entire state. She has been showing everyone how to do it for close to five decades and, perhaps just as importantly, has taught more than a generation of filmmaking students how to make a film and how to navigate the obstacles to getting it out into the world during her career as a professor at Wright State University. When a former student makes it into a festival or receives some other accolade, Julia beams (along with Steve and Jim) as would any proud parent.
It is such an honor and privilege to organize this retrospective of Julia’s astonishing body of work. Taken as whole, Julia’s documentaries serve as nothing short of a history of labor, the women’s movement, health care, and radical humanism in the United States over the past 100 years. Like Howard Zinn’s seminal A People’s History of the United States (1980), Julia’s lifelong project is also told through the voices and stories of heroic everyday citizens, and her appreciation of and respect for her subjects comes through in every second of her films.
Deeply admired and respected by her peers, Julia is a filmmaker’s filmmaker. She is driven, curious, compassionate, tireless, and generous. She has been kicking ass (including cancer’s) and making her films for 50 years, and I feel sorry for the poor bastard who suggests any film is her last. She has another story to tell.
Julia Reichert images courtesy of the filmmaker.