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Encore: Filmmaker Julia Reichert died Thursday at age 76

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Julia Reichert was known as the godmother of American independent documentaries. She died from cancer last week in Yellow Springs, Ohio, at the age of 76. Kathryn Mobley from member station WYSO has this remembrance.

KATHRYN MOBLEY, BYLINE: Julia Reichert explored the stories of working-class people in relationship to gender, social economics, activism and race. Take her 2019 documentary that looked at what happened when a Chinese company took over a shut-down General Motors factory in southern Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AMERICAN FACTORY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're melding two cultures together - the Chinese culture and the U.S. culture.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

MOBLEY: "American Factory" won an Academy Award and a primetime Emmy. Her celebrated documentaries also include "Union Maids," "Seeing Red" and "The Last Truck," about what happened to workers in Dayton, Ohio, when that GM plant closed.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE LAST TRUCK")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: For a year and a half, I didn't have anything.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: We lost our home. We lost a vehicle.

MOBLEY: The director's social awareness was ignited while attending Antioch College during the civil rights era. She was part of a small group of female students who read provocative essays about women's liberation while questioning social norms.

JULIA REICHERT: I grew up - I came of age in the '60s.

MOBLEY: That's Julia Reichert on public radio station WYSO last year.

REICHERT: Millions of us saw racism, saw U.S. domination around the world, saw huge inequalities class-wise. And we said, the system's not working. We got to replace it. And we became, on some broad sense, revolutionaries.

MOBLEY: Reichert grew up in Bordentown, N.J. Her father was a butcher, and her mother was a nurse. They were conservative Republicans.

REICHERT: I was a very awkward kid. I wanted to understand how people worked because I often thought I was, like, a Martian. I was intensely curious about people because I felt so different from everybody else.

MOBLEY: These awkward feelings, combined with her unquenchable desire to reveal quiet human truths, sparked her 1971 debut film, "Growing Up Female."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GROWING UP FEMALE")

REICHERT: At 21, Tammy feels she is free. She feels she can make her own decisions about her life and can do whatever she wishes. But can she?

MOBLEY: This student film was produced with then-partner Jim Klein. It was one of the first movies to come out of the women's liberation movement and was picked by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry. During her 50-year career, Reichert got offers from Hollywood, along with what she called real money. But the artist was committed to living in Ohio.

REICHERT: We need filmmakers, radio people, activists in the Midwest, people who are interested in examining and changing the world so we can be a voice where there is no voice.

MOBLEY: Julia Reichert was a voice. She showed the journeys of working-class people in the Midwest through a clear and compassionate lens. For NPR News, I'm Kathryn Mobley in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PUTH SONG, "THAT'S HILARIOUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kathryn Mobley