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New grant to honor late Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton creates opportunity for filmmakers 39 and older

Actor Marc Maron and director Lynn Shelton attend the SIFF 2019 Opening Night Gala at McCaw Hall on May 16, 2019, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for SIFF)

On May 16, 2020, beloved Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton suddenly died of an undiagnosed blood disease. She was 54 years old. Shelton had written and directed many of her own films including Your Sister’s Sister and her latest, Sword Of Trust, starring Marc Maron, who eventually became her partner. She also directed countless television episodes including Mad Men and her latest, Little Fires Everywhere.

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When Shelton was a guest on my podcast, Your Last Meal, she talked about becoming a filmmaker later in her life. She’d always wanted to try it, but at 39 years old thought she was too old to break in.

“I was making my living as an editor and teaching other people how to edit,” Shelton told me. “I saw Claire Denis, who is a French director who came to town. Northwest Film Forum brought her and did a retrospective of her work. In this on-stage interview she did, she revealed that she hadn’t even started her career as a filmmaker until she was 40. I was like, ‘Oh my God! I’m a lady, too and I’m not quite 40 and I can still have a career!’ She truly was a huge inspiration for me to just dive in and get going. Honestly, we bring so much more to the table because we’ve actually lived life a little bit. So I felt like I could bring more perception and sensitivity and experience to my stories.”

Based on that story, Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum collaborated with Duplass Brothers Production to offer a new grant called the Lynn Shelton “Of a Certain Age” Grant.

“It’s designed for women and non-binary filmmakers who are 39 years or older who haven’t made their first feature,” said one of Shelton’s best friends, Megan Griffiths, Seattle filmmaker and Northwest Film Forum board member. “That essentially describes Lynn in 2005 when she made her first feature, We Go Way Back. She was 39 years old. We wanted to build the grant around Lynn’s legacy of having this ‘late start’ in life and being of a certain age before she started making films. It only made her films better and more formed by life experience.”

Northwest Film Forum’s executive director, Vivian Hua, said the grant offers one lucky filmmaker $25,000 per year.

“We have a series of really generous donors who have stepped up to offer that on a multiyear basis,” Hua said. “We’re not really asking for specific projects, people don’t need to pitch a project to be nominated. It’s more based off of strong work samples or reputation. It’s about investing in a person one sees potential in rather than them having to prove that they have it all figured out already.”

Griffiths said she’s a bit surprised by the number of interested applicants who fit this category, but she knows what a struggle it is to get your start in the industry.

“The film industry is kind of notorious for being very excited about what’s new, and fresh, and young, and male, typically,” Griffiths laughs. “It really was inspiring to see Lynn break out in her 40s and go on from that point to create this giant body of work, through her features and her TV work, that many people, decades younger than her, weren’t able to amass. Once you find that thing that you’re meant to do, sometimes it just clicks.”

To learn more about the grant, click here.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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