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caption: Director Lynn Shelton poses at the premiere of the film "Laggies" during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Shelton, who divided her time between Seattle and Los Angeles in latter years, died on Friday.
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Director Lynn Shelton poses at the premiere of the film "Laggies" during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Shelton, who divided her time between Seattle and Los Angeles in latter years, died on Friday.
Credit: Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP

Lynn Shelton, filmmaker icon and devoted Seattleite, dies at 54

Lynn Shelton, a beloved member of Seattle’s film community, died Friday, May 15, at a Los Angeles hospital.

Shelton’s representatives said the cause of death was a previously undiagnosed blood disorder unrelated to Covid-19. Shelton was 54 years old.

News of Shelton’s passage evoked a flood of loving tributes from the hundreds of people she worked with over her career.

Her friend and colleague, fellow Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths, wrote on Facebook “the qualities that made Lynn a great filmmaker—empathy, compassion, humor, intelligence and sincerity—are the same ones that made her a great friend.”

Others remembered her as a mentor, genuinely interested in helping them advance their own film careers. She was also a staunch advocate for the state’s film industry, actively working to increase Washington’s package of incentives and tax breaks designed to bring more film work to the Pacific Northwest.

The statewide industry advocacy group WashingtonFilmworks wrote of Shelton’s passing, “We celebrate her generous spirit and her gift for collaboration, and we thank her for broadcasting to the world that Seattle and Washington state will always be a place where independent film thrives.”

Lynn Shelton originally trained as an actor at the University of Washington, then studied photography and related media at New York’s School of Visual Arts. She told an interviewer she’d always been interested in filmmaking but lacked the confidence.

Then, in 2003, she saw French director Claire Denis speak and realized Denis made her first film at the age of 40.

Three years later, Shelton released her first feature film, “We Go Way Back.” Her second effort, “My Effortless Brilliance,” gained notice from the Independent Spirit Awards.

In 2009, “Humpday,” a film about two straight men who decide to make a gay porn movie together, won a Special Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and helped to establish Shelton's national reputation as an indie filmmaker.

Hollywood came calling, and while Shelton resisted offers to direct big feature films, she directed for a number of television series, including “Mad Men,” “GLOW,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and most recently, HULU's “Little Fires Everywhere.”

Shelton told KUOW in 2019 that she learned a lot working on those television projects, skills she brought back to her own film projects.

Despite her increased workload in Los Angeles, Shelton retained her Seattle home, and her commitment to the local film community. All but her final feature film, 2019’s “Sword of Trust,” were made in Washington state with local film crews.

“Sword of Trust” opened the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival.

Shelton was collaborating on her next film script with her romantic partner, comedian and actor Marc Maron, with whom she spent the last year of her life. She also is survived by her son, Milo Seal, husband Kevin Seal, her parents and her siblings.

No memorial service has been announced, but Shelton’s publicist says memorial donations may be made to the Northwest Film Forum or the Northwest School for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children.