Remembering Joan Micklin Silver, Director & NYWIFT Advisory Board Member

Joan Micklin Silver in the late 1970s while filming an adaptation of the Ann Beattie novel “Chilly Scenes of Winter.” She had a love-hate relationship with movie studios. Credit…NYT, United Artists, via Photofest


“Joan Micklin Silver, the filmmaker whose first feature, Hester Street, expanded the marketplace for American independent film and broke barriers for women in directing, died on Thursday [December 31, 2020] at her home in Manhattan. She was 85.”  Source: New York Times.

“Silver was both one of the few female directors operating in US cinema in the 1970s, as well as one of the few film-makers that tackled specifically Jewish material – still a rarity in a Hollywood that had traditionally been dominated by Jewish figures in production and studio roles.” Source: The Guardian.

In Silver’s 30 year career, she faced sexism and anti-semitism from studios and funders as she took on the male-dominated filmmaking world. In a 1979 AFI interview Silver said,  “I had such blatantly sexist things said to me by studio executives when I started,” adding that one male executive told her “feature films are very expensive to mount and distribute, and women directors are one more problem we don’t need.” Another called her film Hester Street “too ethnic” Ms. Silver told The Times, “for Jewish material that Hollywood executives distrust.”

“The pathbreaking movie director…  got to have a career that almost no woman was allowed to have, and did not get to have the career that she deserved. Such is the paradox of the pioneer: You get to go where very few have gone before, but when you get there, there’s nobody to pull you up or push you ahead. You make your own way, and withstand the indifference, the hostility, the condescension, and the people who treat you as a curiosity or a slightly troubling anomaly.” Source: Vulture.

Born in Omaha, Silver moved to New York City in 1967 where she began writing and directing films. Silver was best known for her films Hester Street (1975) – which earned 21 year old Carol Kane an Academy Award nomination for Best Lead Actress, and Crossing Delancey (1988) – which earned Amy Irving a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Kane’s nomination was the first time a woman had directed a Best Actress nominee in 45 years. Her films have cemented her legacy as a pioneer of Jewish and female led cinema. 

Please learn more about Joan via an un-edited candid interview, conducted by member and Archive Project leader Norma Davidoff.

Watch it now on our YouTube channel.