Academy Award winning filmmaker Julia Reichert is the co-founder of New Day Films, the filmmaker run distribution house of our short film “America; I Too.” I have never spoken to Julia directly other than, perhaps, through Zoom, thanks to New Day’s Annual Meetings or sending a congratulatory e-mail for her Academy Award win on the New Day listserv. I would be surprised if Julia has any idea at all who I am, let alone seen my work. Yet Julia has made an impact on my life as she has on the lives of so many indie filmmakers across the globe.

In watching Julia from afar, I’ve always been struck by her warmth and friendliness peppered with a forthrightness and confidence. I wonder if I have ever seen a filmmaker as confident as Julia — not with bravado or arrogance mind you, but with true confidence. Her confidence makes sense given her talent, accomplishments, multiple awards and the circles she runs in. Yet even when you look at Julia’s early films, her self-possession and sense of purpose are stamped all over them, long before she became one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of our time.  

While all of her films are known to be exceptional, it is her early films that are my favorites. “Growing up Female,” “Union Maids” and “Seeing Red” are scrappy, gritty and direct, like her. They’re filled with vibrant, intelligent and powerful people who aren’t afraid to express their points of view and share their stories. The movies feature killer soundtracks, how-the-hell-did-you-find-this archival footage and camera and editing choices that I hope to emulate in future projects. Julia’s films exemplify, in my opinion, the phrase that every film funder loves to tout: “Something we’ve never seen before,” which is still true, even decades after they were made.

“Growing up Female” may be the film that I connect with the most. I was barely a few minutes into watching it before I found myself yelling at the screen, “Well what if it doesn’t work out, this so-called idealization of marriage? Or what if your husband makes stupid decisions. Or worse, What if he never even appears?” As outraged as it made me when a factory supervisor in the film says, “The very nature of a woman is such that it makes her wishing to get married,” I may sadly on some level sort of believed it. When a very bright young woman in the film says that she watches older women fearing that they’ll lose their looks (and she fears the same,) I wonder if I might be one of the older women she is referring to. It is the incredibly nuanced and complex truth that Julia gets to in this film and all of her films that always hits me hard.

Like many others have noted, I am deeply moved by the space Julia makes for her Subjects to speak in these early films, her knack for getting out of their way so that they can authentically express themselves. One gets the sense that she is really fascinated by the people she interviews — and therefore we should be too. I am equally impressed by camera placement, the juxtaposition of editing choices and her exceptional framing of story. I am most moved by the intimacy of the camera and the use of her close ups. Through this technique, we get to better understand the Subjects as they get to better understand and know themselves. We can see the experience of their self-discovery and the formation of perspective unfold right before our eyes. While I am watching, I vow to never forget this when making my future films: discovery, discovery, discovery, in real time, is the best act in town.

These days I find myself complaining as much as creating. It’s so hard to get the money for the movie, it’s so hard to make the movie, it’s so hard to get distributors to pay attention to the movie and on it goes. I wish I could redirect my frustration into gratitude for what Julia and other such mentoring filmmakers have done for me (near or far as the case may be,) grumbling less and working more. It is hard for me to imagine Julia traveling around the country on a Greyhound bus with a 16mm print of her first film, camping out on a fellow activists’ couch, speaking to whomever would listen and using “Growing up Female” to help build a movement. I’m on a planes far more than buses to share my film and that is tedious enough. As I think about Julia’s tirelessness, tenacity and zeal, I wonder how she managed to never to give up. It occurs to me that Julia may have been traveling on that Greyhound bus in part so that someday I would not have to.  

But this is the kind of generosity that persists among filmmakers in the New Day collective, the distribution co-op that Julia co-founded and that I am so fortunate to be a part of today. The type of kindness that has prompted mentor filmmakers to watch multiple drafts of my recent feature, offering detailed notes and an inordinate amount of support to get it from awful to award winning. Filmmakers who let me crash on their couches when I passed through their cities, filmmakers who let me know that I wasn’t creating work up to par, filmmakers who just made damn good movies.  I wonder if she had an inkling that in addition to her daughter and grandkids and all of her films, that so many filmmakers to come after her, particularly those of us in the New Day Films collective would be a part of her remarkable legacy.

Julia talks a lot about voice, about how she came to understand she had something to say through uplifting workers’ voices and experiences like the voices of her family and community. This got me thinking about my voice as a BIPOC Jewish female filmmaker and is helping me reach for the courage to use it. I am grateful for Julia’s commitment to herself, to finding and developing her unique and powerful filmmaking voice and her indirect encouragement that I continue honing my own. However, this is only one thing I would thank her for. I can appreciate who Julia is and has been, both privately and publicly. I can thank her for her brilliant body of work and for the impact it has had on so many. Most of all I would like to thank Julia for co-creating New Day, and inadvertently connecting me to such amazing filmmakers and helping me become the kind of filmmaker I want to be. ____________________________________________________

Julia Reichert passed away surrounded by family on December 1, 2022, after a long battle with cancer. May her memory be for a revolution, Rest in Power.

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