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Kelly Reichardt: A Woman Making History

March 18, 2010

30 Women Making History In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month, Women’s Media Center is profiling 30 extraordinary women making history. Our goal is to raise $10,000 to support WMC Exclusives — every dollar raised will go directly toward hiring women writers to comment on major news stories and report topics often neglected by the mainstream media. Will you contribute $30? Click here to donate: or text WOMEN to 50555 to make a $10 donation. Kelly Reichardt: A Woman Making History by Catherine Epstein I was introduced to Kelly Reichardt through Netflix's "Movies You'll ♥" – a service that chooses films to fit your preferences.  On a rainy and unemployed day in San Francisco, I was looking for entertainment of the "Watch it Now" variety, and Netflix recommended Reichardt's "Old Joy." And yeah, Netflix, I fell in ♥. The movie follows two 30-something, just-back-in-touch friends during a few days' journey into the woods outside of Portland Oregon. It's small, and slow, and often stops to focus on an earthworm, leaf, or bird. Reichardt followed it with 2008's "Wendy and Lucy," which centers on a young woman on her way to find summer employment at an Alaskan fishery. Her plan is derailed over the course of 24 hours, and this quick unraveling of funds and security reflects some of Wendy's personal choices, but also begs whether American lives are as protected – and precious to the government – as they seem. In a Gothamist interview, Reichardt explained her interest in citizens' responsibility to one another: "When you're on the subway and someone approaches you and asks you for a handout, you have this really brief period of time to make a decision about whether or not you're going to help them...You check out what they're wearing. You wonder: Are they in that bad a situation that they get my dollar? You do this quick survey without really knowing the details of anyone's life." What I find audacious and great about these films – and about Reichardt as a person – is this faith (which feels revolutionary in the age of Michael Bay and James Cameron) that movies based on momentary interactions and small, flawed lives can be just as dramatic and forceful as those about alien invasions. Although her movies have been critically acclaimed, Reichardt hasn't achieved broad national coverage or an Oscar nomination; her primary income depends on her work as a professor at Bard College. But when questioned about this, Reichardt reminds her interviewer that standard ideas of achievement don't always apply: "This constant implication that success has one picture is so limited—and talk about American! I'm constantly asked this, as if teaching is some loser profession, or an uninteresting place to be. I've been out in L.A. for five days with my film, just doing stuff that I've never done before, press junkets and stuff, and I'm like—this is it? This is what everybody thinks is the most special f---ing thing on the planet? Are you kidding me? It melts your brain." This is why I think Reichardt is great, and it's why she's making history – because her films and personal integrity remind us that success is always much more meaningful on our own terms.