Once upon a time, and not so long ago at that, there lived a family on the island of Manhattan that was really into movies. Like totally. In 1975 Mommy director made Hester Street, which led to Between the Lines, Chilly Scenes of Winter and next February’s Finnegan Begin Again for HBO (with Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Preston). In 1979 Daddy director, also a producer and real estate developer, tried his hand with On the Yard, a prison drama. Now producer daughter and director daughter have a critically acclaimed film called Old Enough, about two girls from opposite backgrounds who come of age in New York City. Since it has legs (it played for two months in New York and is going strong in major U. cities), everybody’s happy: director Marisa Silver, producer Dina Silver and their parents, Joan Micklin and Raphael (Ray) Silver. Also Robert Redford, whose Sundance Institute helped make the film.
The Silver family (except for daughter Claudia, 21, a history major at Harvard) works out of Ray’s real estate office on Madison Avenue, where the production company he set up to produce his wife’s movies is located. “We read each other’s projects,” says Dina, 26. “Because we’re family, we give honest responses.” Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the sisters moved with the family to New York when they were children. Their comfortable upbringing fostered self-confidence and independence. Though Marisa went to Harvard, she left after her sophomore year. Dina (who graduated from Princeton) lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Marisa in the Village, but both live alone because career comes first. And though Marisa, 24, has the showier role of director, no ego flare-ups have occurred. “Sibling tension,” insists Dina, “has never been a problem.”
For Marisa, having independent filmmakers as parents was thrilling. “I loved sitting around the dinner table hearing discussions about how to make movies.” Recalls mother Joan, 49: “Marisa used to come along with me to casting sessions and shooting rehearsals.” When the directorial shoe was on the other foot, though, Mom made herself scarce. “This was Marisa’s project and I didn’t want to interfere. I allowed myself only one hour on the set one day and that was it.”
It took Dina longer to come around. “I was definitely not going to do what everyone in the family was doing,” she says. That all changed in 1982 when Marisa called Dina to tell her she’d written a movie. “She asked if I’d like to produce it,” Dina recalls. “She claims I said, in true Hollywood fashion, ‘Send me the script!’ ” They both laugh. “I read it and loved it,” says Dina. “I was initially naive, but I got serious very fast.”
Marisa applied for acceptance to Sundance, Robert Redford’s four-year-old, nonprofit summer filmmaking workshop outside Provo, Utah. Out of 250 applicants, Marisa and the creators of seven other projects were accepted. Marisa was familiar with Sundance through her father, who had been there in 1981 to lead workshops on the marketing of films. “Ray wrote us a nice letter,” recalls Jenny Walz, Sundance’s managing director for programs, “saying, ‘I hope I’m not being too pushy, but my daughter would be interested in attending. Would that be a conflict of interest?’ We said, ‘Absolutely not.’ ” Marisa then sent Sundance her script. “Everyone on the selection committee adored it,” Walz said. Naturally, there were cries of favoritism. “You can’t defend yourself against those who’ve got it in their heads,” says Marisa. “But nobody gives you money because you have a parent with a famous name. It’s a little harder than that, really it is.”
Still, there’s no denying the sisters had a head start. Marisa conferred with Hollywood screenwriters and Red-ford even helped her direct a scene. Dina (who also went along to Sundance) tackled the business end, taking workshops on how to produce and distribute films. When the month was over, the Silver sisters headed to Hollywood to peddle their project. Hollywood wasn’t buying, so they returned to New York where Dina formed a limited partnership called Silverfilm to raise the $400,000 budget.
Then an astonishing thing happened: Sundance, a nonprofit organization, kicked in $50,000. “We had to come in as a limited partner for that project to fly,” says Gary Beer, Sundance’s general manager. Beer is almost embarrassed that Sundance may now be in the position of realizing a profit.
The Silver sisters are not. “I feel confident that we’ll pay back our investors,” says Dina. Marisa is already considering new projects—a mystery and a romance. To those who persist in seeing them as two kids with the right connections, Marisa and Dina turn a deaf ear. The real vindication came in three words Marisa heard when she recently passed a Manhattan theater showing Old Enough, “Two tickets, please.” Sighs Marisa: “It was exhilarating.”