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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Filmmaker Julia Reichert reflects on her career as a retrospective of her work comes to The Neon

Filmmaker Julia Reichert
Eryn Montgomery

This Sunday at The Neon movie theatre in downtown Dayton, a film retrospective begins called Julia Reichert: 50 Years in Film. Julia will talk about her origins as a working-class kid from New Jersey who came to Antioch College in the 60s, and she'll show her first film Growing Up Female made as her senior project in 1971.

"I think all of us are shaped by our era that we grow up in. I came of age in the in the 60s. So that meant that with collectively, millions of us saw racism, saw U.S. domination around the world, imperialism, saw huge inequalities class-wise, and we said the system's not working. We got to replace it, and we became, in some broad sense, revolutionaries. How do we live the life we can foresee that we'd like to have? How do we do that? And it becomes important because particularly when it comes to racism and class, sexism and patriarchy. This doesn't just go to the government and the board room, it goes to the bedroom and the kitchen, right? It goes to how we treat each other. So if you want to start rooting out these sexist ways we operate, I mean, both women looking down upon ourselves and men thinking that they own the world and are smarter and more capable, it goes both ways, right? So I think there was a general sense, which was very exciting, that we can build a new world."

Before she made Growing Up Female, Julia joined what was called a consciousness raising group to talk about women's liberation and remembers it fondly.

"Wow, like when you just think of those words. There was a group of five women, but just five of us for like six months. These incredible new ideas that were coming out from the essays that we were reading and the insights that were just amazing from our group consciousness raising groups. We realized it isn't just me, it's women. It's sexism, it's patriarchy. We were on fire with these ideas."

An Extended Conversation with Julia Reichert
Listen to a longer version of Neenah Ellis' conversation with Julia Reichert

She brought that fire to WYSO and made a radio show called The Single Girl.

Julia Reichert
WYSO Archives
Julia Reichert during her time at WYSO in the 1970s.

Fellow student Jim Klein engineered the radio show and soon after they made the film Growing Up Female, which explores themes of class, race and gender, and throughout, Julia relentlessly questioned some young women about their roles as women trying to figure out the path ahead for them and herself.

"You have to deeply care about. What you're making the film about and when I say care, I mean, actually be deeply curious. You have to have deep questions, you know why? Because otherwise you're going to give up. It's too hard to make a film, even a short film, but certainly a long film is so difficult that if you don't have a burning curiosity, lists of questions you must have answered. And I don't mean for the world, I mean for you."

Julia Reichert has lived vibrantly for the last three years with terminal cancer. Since her diagnosis, though, she's finished three films and won an Academy Award. But now she says her body is giving out. She was in her hospital room at the James Cancer Center last Sunday. When we spoke, her partner and collaborator of nearly 30 years, Steven Bognar, tenderly held the audio recorder in front of her.

Directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar live 25 minutes from the Fuyao factory in Dayton. Their previous film, <em>The Last Truck,</em> documented the closing of a GM factory in  Moraine, Ohio.
David Holm / Netflix
Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar won an Oscar for their film "American Factory".

"Lying in my hospital bed here, I thought really took hold of me, which is I've never shown this all these films to my own community, to people I actually know or younger people who, you know, never had a chance to be exposed to those ideas, the things that I learned or that we learned in making the films. It really has to do with. What are the last pages I want to write before my end comes on this Earth? What are the last important things that I want to do and not dislike came right to the surface? And luckily, it's going to happen."

And she is planning to be there.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Neenah Ellis has been a radio producer most of her life. She began her career at a small commercial station in northern Indiana and later worked as a producer for National Public Radio in Washington, DC. She came to WYSO in 2009 and served as General Manager until she became the Executive Director of The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices where she works with her colleagues to train and support local producers and has a chance to be a radio producer again. She is also the author of a New York Times best-seller called “If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians.”