Like many other film lovers, I was shocked and devastated to hear of Lynn Shelton’s passing last weekend. Whether you know it or not, chances are you’ve seen and admired Shelton’s work. In the last decade, she’s made a place for herself as an accomplished television director, with credits on Mad Men, GLOW, and most recently, Little Fires Everywhere. For many in the independent cinema world, her film work is seminal. From her first film, We Go Way Back, (Grand Jury Prize winner at Slamdance in 2006), to Laggies (MVFF 2014), through to her last film, Sword of Trust (SXSW 2019), Shelton established herself as a powerful and memorable voice in independent film.
For this writer, Shelton’s work made me fall in love with indie film. Her films were made purely out of a desire to tell stories that reflect real human experiences. I saw myself in the raw, awkward, vulnerable characters in Touchy Feely. I saw my friends, my family. In Humpday, I heard the conversations I have had, have wanted to have, have been forced to have. I felt the love and connection, the resentment and hurt, the hysterical laughter. I loved watching her protagonists be pushed outside their comfort zones, awkwardly fumble and then discover something about themselves they never knew before. I admired the complexity of each and every character, the nuance and care given to each portrayal, regardless of their onscreen time.
The collaborative spirit of her films, in which she often allowed the actors to improvise some dialogue, would result in some of my favorite performances: We know Emily Blunt mastered the art of a cutting insult and a piercing glare in The Devil Wears Prada, and she effortlessly embodied the beloved Mary Poppins, but for me, nothing compares to watching her discover she is in love with her best friend in my favorite Shelton film, Your Sister’s Sister.
Accepting the Someone to Watch award at the 2009 Film Independent Spirit Awards, Shelton said: “Any one of you who are out there thinking that you can’t make a movie because nobody is stepping up to the plate and giving you money and permission to do it: You Can. You can do it. You can empower yourself. You can pick up a camera. The technology is there. You can get your friends together and you can make a movie. You should do it. Now.”
We were lucky to have had Lynn Shelton, her impressive body of television work, and her eight films. We are lucky that her ability to make such beautiful films with modest resources, and her dedication to empowering others to do the same, will continue to inspire many artists to come.
– Celeste Wong, MVFF Programming Associate