If this were a normal year, I’d already have published a post on Opening Night Festivities for SIFF 2020. There’d also be a Lynn Shelton retrospective showing in select Seattle cinemas upon her passing (this NWFF event was planned ahead-of-time; the fact that it ended up being timely is a fortunate — or unfortunate — accident). But this isn’t a normal year.
In Seattle, Shelton was a rock star, and with all due respect to all the other talented filmmakers in Seattle (many of whom worked with, were supported by, or knew Shelton), she was — in my humble, nonprofessional opinion — the face of the Seattle film industry. She was the first Pacific Northwest filmmaker to “make it big” and have Hollywood knocking on her door (though Dan Ireland made his first feature in 1996, his films don’t have that Pacific Northwest aesthetic that Shelton and others from the area infuse in their films). She opened the Seattle International Film Festival twice, with Your Sister’s Sister in 2012 and Sword of Trust last year. Touchy Feely played at SIFF 2013, Laggies opened the 2015 Women in Cinema mini-festival at the newly reopened Egyptian Theater, Outside In had a special one-night screening at the Uptown (with Shelton doing a Q&A afterwards) and — if memory serves me correctly — either sold out in the Uptown’s biggest auditorium or came close. And that’s just what’s played since I’ve been in Seattle. Her breakout movie, Humpday, played at SIFF 2009 at the Centerpiece Gala.
Despite all of these cinematic opportunities, I’ve only seen Sword of Trust, at a press-only screening last year. I liked it, even if it was fluffy and light (though there’s a speech by Marc Maron’s character that is quite touching). Much of that has to do with logistics (Your Sister’s Sister sold out, Touchy Feely and Laggies probably played while I was working, Inside Out definitely did), but I could’ve seen these movies after the fact. I also never saw her do a Q&A or conduct one (which I’ve heard she was brilliant at, even if she didn’t always adhere to the time limit).
In fact, my only interactions with Lynn Shelton were at concessions.
I still remember one of the first times I served her. She came up and wanted something a little fancier than what we had on the menu. At that time, we sold coffee, tea, chai (in a mix), and basic espresso drinks (lattes, Americanos, mochas). What she wanted was something along the lines of a London Fog, i.e. something we had the ingredients for, but was slightly different from what we sold. Recognizing who she was (and that she wasn’t asking for the equivalent of a Frappuccino), I said we’d figure it out. She laughed (and her laughs really were life affirming), I made her drink, and she went to see her movie.
Not such a memorable story, but this interaction and others that came later were memorable for not turning into a nightmare customer story, or one of Hollywood corrupting local talent. She still ordered her food herself, she never asked for special treatment (and only in the interaction above asked for a special drink — and asked if we could make it, as opposed to demanding it), and she was always pleasant toward the staff. Plus, most of these interactions occurred when she was there to see someone else’s film. Even as a filmmaker, she never stopped being a filmgoer, or being supportive of her peers.
And this is what I’ll miss most about Lynn Shelton: these little interactions that were remarkable in their unremarkableness. Obviously, the lack of more films or TV shows directed by her makes her sudden passing tragic (she was only 54, and made her first film at 40), but we’ll also have one less kind person in the world, and that’s a tragedy, regardless of age or talent.