“It’s a little bit like going back home to your parents’ house when you’re grown up and moved away — you kind of turn back into a kid,” said filmmaker and Seattle native Lynn Shelton, whose latest film “Sword of Trust” will get the gala treatment on Seattle International Film Festival’s opening night. “I feel extra anxiety, and am extra excited to show it off to the folks in the place I grew up in and had my formative years in and dreamed about being able to make movies.”
Much has changed about Shelton’s career since the previous time that she opened the festival (with “Your Sister’s Sister” in 2012 — the first time a local filmmaker was given that honor). For starters, she’s calling from Los Angeles, where she spends much of her time these days (though she still lives in Seattle part time). Though feature films remain her first love, Shelton now works frequently in television, with recent credits that include guest-directing stints on “GLOW,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “The Good Place,” “Shameless,” “Master of None” and many more.
“Sword of Trust,” a goofball caper comedy with a literal sword at its center, is Shelton’s first film made outside the Pacific Northwest — it’s a Southern story, and was filmed in Alabama. Like most of Shelton’s movies, she said, it came about because of a particular actor she wanted to work with: comedian Marc Maron, whom Shelton had directed on his TV series “Maron.” With writer Michael Patrick O’Brien, Shelton crafted a story in which Maron plays a pawnshop owner who sees dollar signs when a couple (Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins) bring in a weapon that they claim is an authentic Civil War artifact.
Though she’d spent little time in the South beforehand, Shelton embraced the challenge of trying out a new locale, thinking of filmmaker John Sayles — “someone who goes to a new place, embeds himself in it, and makes it a part of the narrative.” Many locals were involved in the production, on both sides of the camera: “I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a Northerner coming in and making fun of the South. That was really important to me.”
Shelton’s eager to make another feature film: She’s got a long-simmering project based on a “This American Life” story called “The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms,” co-written with fellow Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths. But her next project, just announced last week, will be keeping her in Los Angeles for a while. She’ll be executive producer of the Hulu limited-series adaptation of Celeste Ng’s best-selling novel about mothers and daughters, “Little Fires Everywhere,” and will direct four of the eight episodes.
It’s an unusual project for Shelton, who generally prefers to focus on feature filmmaking and to keep her TV work to guest spots here and there. But “Little Fires Everywhere” just “hit so many buttons for me — the really strong female protagonists, all the places it goes and the territory it explores.” Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington and Rosemarie DeWitt will star, and filming will begin in a few weeks, continuing well into the fall.
But for now, she’s excited to return home to walk the SIFF red carpet on May 16, and to listen to the local audience’s reaction to “Sword of Trust.” Female-directed comedies are front and center this year at SIFF (other galas include Nisha Ganatra’s “Late Night,” with Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, and Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” with Awkwafina) and Shelton’s proud to be part of that wave. “It’s pretty great,” she said. “We deserve our specific way of making people laugh.”
“Sword of Trust” opens the Seattle International Film Festival at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. Lynn Shelton and Marc Maron will be among the red-carpet guests. Tickets $75 (includes admission, entry into opening-night party and two drink tickets) or $275 (includes admission with reserved seating, valet parking, gift bag, entry into opening-night party and unlimited drinks); 206-324-9996, siff.net