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.
Australia's longest-running film society, Melbourne Cinémathèque screens significant works of international cinema in the medium they were created, the way they would have originally screened.
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