Joan Micklin Silver (1935–2020) is recognised for many things, not least for working against the tide of misogyny in an industry that seemed determined to exclude women. The daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Silver’s experience growing up in Omaha had a profound influence on her subsequent career. Across seven feature films, along with a slew of TV movies and educational shorts, Silver’s work spanned decades, cities, genres and tones. Moving between comedies, period films and contemporary relationship-based dramas, her films provide a pointed portrait and examination of human nature. Silver’s innovative work in the 1970s made waves for the rise of American independent cinema. Her first feature, Hester Street, a landmark low-budget film, was turned down by several major studios for being “too ethnic” before going on to significant theatrical success. Coming to filmmaking at a time when the old studio system was breaking down and a new one starting to form in its place, Silver was something of a feminist pioneer. But as Silver’s colleague and friend, producer Linda Gottlieb, attested, “[a]bstract notions of feminism never interested Joan; specific women and their stories did”. Silver followed her debut with Between the Lines, Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979) and Crossing Delancey (1988) – her most well-known works alongside the 46-minute F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976). Matt Zoller Seitz describes Silver’s films as “products of an artist who understood what life was really about: an accumulation of mundane but necessary actions, made special by their context in a person’s life”. Her films form a coherent and strong body of work, and her first two features, made at the peak of her powers in the 1970s, allow a glimpse into the acute vision and directorial skill that marked her groundbreaking career.
7:00pm HESTER STREET
Joan Micklin Silver (1975) 89 mins – PG
This story of a Jewish family migrating to America was adapted from a novel by Abraham Cahan, with Silver astutely shifting its nuanced focus on the complications of assimilation from the husband to the wife. In this quiet yet enlivened black-and-white melodrama – shot by significant local artist Ken Van Sickle – Silver reimagines the spirited street life of the Lower East Side at the turn of the last century. Carol Kane was nominated for an Academy Award for her astounding lead performance as Gitl. With Steven Keats and Doris Roberts.
American Maverick: How Joan Micklin Silver Made Hester Street (1975)
by Shari Kizirian
8:45pm BETWEEN THE LINES
Joan Micklin Silver (1977) 101 mins – Unclassified 15+
Silver’s second feature follows a group of journalists and friends working at a Boston newspaper who labour to resist the soullessness of the corporate mass media. Floating between the newsroom office space and the urban youth scene, the film’s ensemble performances embrace the possibilities and challenges of the countercultural ideal. This “bristling, richly enjoyable film” (Jonathan Romney), is brought to life by Silver’s sharp direction and its precise focus on human foibles. With John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Gwen Welles, Bruno Kirby and Lindsay Crouse.