Accomplished Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton passed away yesterday evening, May 15, in Los Angeles at a University of Southern California hospital. The news was confirmed by her publicist who says the cause of death was a previously unidentified blood disorder. She was 54.
Though Shelton was born in Ohio, she grew up in Seattle, Wash. and called the city her home. After studying drama at the University of Washington and getting her Masters of Fine Arts in photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Shelton began a career as a film editor. After seeing director Claire Denis speak at the Northwest Film Forum in 2003 when Shelton was in her mid-30s, Shelton decided there was still time to pursue her dreams. This prompted her to begin working on what would become her directorial debut, We Go Way Back, which was released in 2006.
This film kicked off what would become a prolific career and includes highlights such as 2009’s Humpday, 2011’s Your Sister’s Sister, and 2013’s Touchy Feely, among numerous others. She also began to directing television as well, helming episodes of such series as Mad Men, GLOW, Fresh Off The Boat, Maron, New Girl, Little Fires Everywhere, and more.
Among her many accomplishments, Shelton was awarded The Stranger’s Genius Award for lifetime achievement in 2008. Her film Humpday was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and also screened at the Cannes Film Festival that year as well. What would be her final film, 2019’s Sword of Trust, saw a release at the SXSW Film Festival.
Beyond just the success of her films and awards, above all else, Shelton was beloved by her fans and especially the Seattle arts community. An outpouring of reflections from artists and collaborators have already begun to pour in.
"Lynn Shelton was a dear friend. A brilliant filmmaker, one of the smartest, kindest, most supportive and generous souls I've ever encountered,” Seattle musician Tomo Nakayama, who appeared in her film Touchy Feely, shared on Facebook, “She loved music and art and film and above all she truly loved people. She treated every single person on her set like family, regardless of their role or stature."
Carl Spence, former artistic director for the Seattle International Film Festival confirmed to The Stranger that before Shelton the SIFF had never opened with a Seattle filmmaker. Spence adds, "She was the guiding light of the Seattle filmmaking scene. She transcended it by not only working here and supporting things here but also becoming a force of her own right in the national film and TV scene."
Bold, groundbreaking, and adventurous are just a few of the words synonymous with Shelton and her work. Join us in remembering Shelton’s life by revisiting clips and trailers from her films below.