By Morgan Roberts
Lynn Shelton was an exceptional filmmaker. Like many, I was devastated to learn about her sudden passing. Shelton was 54.
I remember watching her work for the first time. I saw “Your Sister’s Sister” (2011) at home, after renting it from Netflix. I wanted to see Emily Blunt’s latest film and I didn’t know much about it. Shelton brought to life an intimate story about three people struggling to find themselves, redefine themselves and their circumstances. It wasn’t a flashy or showy film. Yet, I was struck with every element of the film.
So, when her film “Touchy Feely” (2013) came out, I sought it out. The film stars Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist who suddenly has an aversion to touch. It has to be one of the most intriguing plots I’ve ever seen on film, especially in an independent film. It was inventive and simply human.
Her work was always human. She saw the weaknesses of people, but looked at the things that made people beautiful and wonderfully unique. She gave us the best of people in all circumstances. From her female empowerment/quarter life crisis film “Laggies” (2014) to the ex-con re-entering into the community film “Outside In” (2017) to her feature directorial debut about a 20-something woman meeting her 13 year old self “We Go Way Back” (2006).
“Her work was always human. She saw the weaknesses of people, but looked at the things that made people beautiful and wonderfully unique. She gave us the best of people in all circumstances.”
Her latest film, “Sword of Trust” (2019), was something particularly special. “Sword of Trust” was my birthday movie. It was worth hunting it down at the only theater showing it in the area. It has Marc Maron attempting to sell a Confederate sword to someone who believes it is proof that the South won the Civil War. The film was entirely improvised, with an outline more than dialogue to guide her actors. Leaving the theater, I felt energized by the film. I knew I had just watched something special. That’s truly how I felt after seeing every one of Shelton’s films.
Shelton also left her mark on television. She directed episodes of “GLOW,” “Love,” “Mad Men,” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” to name a few. When you watched her episodes, you knew it was her. The energy, the attention to detail and the attention to people. She was always in-tune with the story and the actors. Her attentiveness to others radiated throughout her work.
“She taught us to lead with kindness. Kindness opens more doors than anything. She taught us that humans are magical, messy, special beings.”
When not working behind the camera, Shelton was a champion for other female filmmakers. In 2012, she proudly presented Ava DuVernay the Directing Award at Sundance. She was a Sundance Labs advisor to Nia DaCosta. If you saw her interview with Amy Adrion in the documentary film “Half the Picture” (2018), you saw how much Shelton strove to provide opportunities to her peers. She was an incredible advocate for her peers.
Shelton was her own advocate, too. Shelton once said, “I self-generated my work, and I never went around asking permission to make it. The main reason women make inroads in independent film is that no one has to say, ‘I pick you.’ I’m not pounding on anyone’s door. I”m just making my own way. You can buy a camera for $1,500. It’s insane how easy it is to make a movie. You can make mistakes and throw it under the rug and keep going. You’re not dependent on other people allowing you to do it.”
Shelton has been one of my favorite directors for years. I am truly stunned. It does not seem possible that someone with so much ahead of her is gone. But there are many things Shelton taught us through her films and her actions.
“Shelton was her own advocate, too. Shelton once said, “I self-generated my work, and I never went around asking permission to make it…It’s insane how easy it is to make a movie. You can make mistakes and throw it under the rug and keep going. You’re not dependent on other people allowing you to do it.”
She taught us to make our own opportunities. If there is a will, there is a way. You just have to be willing to take risks. And as you are given opportunities, pay it forward to others. There is nothing more magical than belonging to a community rather than basking in your own glory all alone. Shelton paid it forward in many ways.
She taught us to be giving. Giving to your cast and your crew, and in turn, they give you their best efforts. Because when people feel supported and appreciated, the ripple effects of actions will be endless. She taught us to lead with kindness. Kindness opens more doors than anything. She taught us that humans are magical, messy, special beings. And in all of that glorious mess is true beauty. Those were all of the stories she told.
It feels impossible to encapsulate everything that made Lynn Shelton an exceptional filmmaker and an incredible human being. She made phenomenal films and television. Her attentiveness made her vision truly special. And by all accounts, she was a remarkable, lovely human. All I can simply say is thank you. Thank you, Lynn. For everything.
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