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Lynn Shelton, a leading voice of the new American independent cinema movement who directed the intimate darlings Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister and My Effortless Brilliance, has died. She was 54.
Shelton died Friday in Los Angeles as a result of a previously unidentified blood disorder, her longtime publicist Adam Kersh announced.
A prominent face on the Seattle arts and culture scene, Shelton also was a prolific television director who worked on series including Mad Men, GLOW, Little Fires Everywhere and The Morning Show.
Her films were known for naturalistic acting, often-improvised dialogue and a focus on interpersonal relationships.
On Twitter, Mark Duplass, a frequent collaborator, wrote: “We made so many things together. I wish we had made more. Her boundless creative energy and infectious spirit were unrivaled. She made me better. We butted heads, made up, laughed, pushed each other. Like family. What a deep loss.”
An aspiring actor and photographer in her 20s, Shelton didn’t begin making films until she was in her mid-30s. When she saw French director Claire Denis speak at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum in 2003, Denis revealed that she was 40 when she directed her first feature. This made Shelton realize that she still had plenty of time.
She would go on to write and direct eight feature films in her last 14 years, including We Go Way Back (2006), winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival, and My Effortless Brilliance (2008), which premiered at SXSW and led to her winning the Independent Spirit “Someone to Watch” Award.
Shelton’s career took off after Humpday bowed at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Starring Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore and Duplass, it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures for distribution and would screen in the Director’s Fortnight section at Cannes.
Humpday received the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award in 2010.
Your Sister’s Sister (2011), a comedic love triangle, starred Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt and premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.
Shelton followed with Touchy Feely (2013), starring DeWitt in an idiosyncratic story of a massage therapist who develops an aversion to human touch, and Laggies (2014), with Keira Knightley portraying a woman in the throes of a quarter-life crisis.
Outside In (2018), her first dramatic film, featured Jay Duplass as an ex-con who develops an intense bond with his former high school teacher (Edie Falco). Sword of Trust (2019) starred Marc Maron as a pawnshop owner who comes into possession of a sword that may prove the South actually won the Civil War. (She played Maron’s addict ex-girlfriend in that film.)
Shelton was collaborating with Maron on a script for what was to be her next film. The two spent the last year of her life together, Kersh said.
“I am leveled, heartbroken and in complete shock and don’t really know how to move forward in this moment,” Maron said in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
“She was a beautiful, kind, loving, charismatic artist. Her spirit was pure joy. She made me happy. I made her happy. We were happy. I made her laugh all the time. We laughed a lot. We were starting a life together. I really can’t believe what is happening. This is a horrendous, sad loss.”
Born on Aug. 27, 1965, in Oberlin, Ohio, Shelton was raised in Seattle. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio and then the University of Washington School of Drama before moving to New York to follow the Master’s of Fine Arts program in photography and related media at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
In 2010, Shelton was selected by Matthew Weiner to direct the “Hands and Knees” episode of Mad Men.
Her TV résumé also included Master of None, Casual, Santa Clarita Diet, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Shameless, Maron, Fresh Off the Boat, AP Bio and Dickinson.
She also directed Maron’s recent comedy special End Times Fun and his 2017 special Too Real and served as an executive producer on Little Fires Everywhere.
In a July interview with IndieWire, Shelton reflected on how the business had changed over the years:
“I often would be the only feature narrative filmmaker at a festival,” she said. “People were just coming up to me and going, ‘Oh, my God. What the fuck? How does it feel to be a female filmmaker?’ and I’d be like, ‘I don’t have any idea what it would feel like to be anything else, so I don’t know what to tell you.'”
Survivors include her son, Milo; her husband, Kevin Seal; her parents Wendy & Alan Roedell and David “Mac” Shelton & Frauke Rynd; and siblings David, Robert and Tanya.
Known for her infectious laugh and an esprit de corps that touched many, Shelton wrote as her Twitter bio: “I make movies and direct tv shows and like to laugh. A lot.”
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