Lynn Shelton is the first local filmmaker to open the Seattle International Film Festival twice. Her last film to kick off SIFF, Your Sister's Sister, back in 2012, starred Emily Blunt and was set in the San Juan Islands. Shelton is probably best known for 2009's Humpday, starring Mark Duplass, or 2014's Laggies with Kiera Knightley and Sam Rockwell—both films set in Seattle. Her latest, Sword of Trust, starring Marc Maron, is her first set outside Washington State. She shot it in Birmingham, Alabama, in a mere two weeks. Maron (who Shelton has also directed on the Netflix show Glow) will be in attendance at the SIFF kickoff screening.
Sword of Trust feels very now. It's clearly a movie that was made while Trump was the president. Was that in the back of your mind?
I mean, how could it not be? He's always there. He's taken over our lives. But I definitely didn't set out to "make a movie that was relevant." I really didn't! It just sort of happened that way.
Several of the characters are taken up with conspiracy theories. Like the guy who believes the earth is flat.
I knew the movie had to have a flat-earther in it. And I wanted to re-create this experience that I'd had: Before I knew that flat earth was a thing that people believed in—[laughing]—the way I was introduced to it was in a Lyft, a long, traffic-y drive that was like an hour or something. The driver, this normal guy, was talking to me; we were just chatting about whatever and it was completely normal. Normal intelligence. Nothing weird about the guy at all. Just chatting away. And then near the end of the ride, he starts to describe this theory to me, and I can't even wrap my head around what he's saying. Then when I realize what he's saying, I'm like, "Well clearly he's joking." But then clearly he's not joking. I was just like, "What the fuck is happening!?"
No way. You had a flat-earther Lyft driver?
And he said, "No, no, listen. I was exactly where you are a year ago. And I get it. I get it." And he's saying this with all sincerity: "I'm telling you, if you just google deep enough, it's all there. It's indisputable. You cannot deny these facts. You just have to think for yourself. Think outside the box." It was mind-blowing. And then I confirmed that this was a thing. He wasn't the only one. I couldn't believe it. That was the start of thinking that it could be a broader theme. I mean, there have always been conspiracy theories, but it's just having such a heyday right now, especially because we have a conspiracy-theorist-in-chief.
There are some characters in the film who believe the South actually won the Civil War.
I've been so thrilled there have been several people asking me after seeing the film if that's a real thing—if there really is a society of people who believe the South won the Civil War. The answer is no. Until now. I'm sure we're going to spawn something. But it makes me so happy to be asked that—because why not?! Why the fuck not? Maybe! Anything is possible!
Was that your biggest inspiration for making Sword of Trust?
The biggest inspiration was wanting to make a movie with Marc Maron. This is my eighth film, and there's a pretty high number of them that have been inspired by a particular actor muse. It was the same thing with Marc. He already knew I wanted to work with him, and then I came up with this idea of a pawnshop owner. I was in a Lyft in LA—it's so funny, another Lyft story—and we stopped at a light and I saw this amazing looking pawnshop, and I went: "Ah, that's it! A curmudgeonly pawnshop owner. My god, it's perfect." I could just see the whole thing.
Is this your first movie not set in Washington? Follow-up question: Why do you hate us?
Yes! [Laughs] The short answer: It needed to be set in the South. We ended up in Birmingham. It was surreal to make a movie in foreign territory. It was like, "I don't know this place." But I have to say, I kind of fell in love with it. The people are extraordinary. It really is like another country. It was a completely different cultural experience.
This is not your first time opening SIFF. Your Sister's Sister was also the opening night film at SIFF.
And that was the first time a Seattle filmmaker had ever opened the film festival. I can't even begin to say how much it means. I love SIFF. They showed my experimental films before I even started making features, and I grew up with SIFF. So it just means the most to me.
Do they treat you like royalty when it's your second time opening the festival? Do they give you a bathtub full of champagne or something?
[Laughs] They better.