Lynn Shelton Celebrates Humpday

This year has been a bit surreal for me.

Humpday is my third feature and the first of mine to be accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. I made the film on a shoestring budget in Seattle, the town where I live, with talented, wonderful friends whom I love—just as I have made my previous two movies.

My quest as a moviemaker has always been to craft good art and to have a good time doing it, as opposed to fishing for fame and fortune. Still, I will confess that getting into Sundance was a dream come true, and I assumed that our very respectable reception at that festival would be the peak experience in the life of our modest, homegrown film. As it turns out, more good things were in store for it and for us.

Present at our Park City world premiere was Frédéric Boyer, then a member of the selection committee for Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight (and now the artistic director). Our sales agent, Josh Braun, regaled me the next day with an impression—in a beautifully rendered French accent—of Boyer’s comment to him after the screening, “I do not like zhees film… I love it.”
Olivier Père, the artistic director of Directors’ Fortnight at the time, attended a later screening and he must have liked it (or “loved it,” as the case may be) as well, because a month and a half later we received our official invitation to the 2009 Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (the Directors’ Fortnight).

The fact that I was going to Cannes was a difficult concept for me to absorb. My arms were still black and blue from all the pinching they had suffered over the fact that Sundance had premiered my film. Now I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was actually living someone else’s life. This feeling only intensified as the trip to France approached, and, frankly, it continued right through the festival itself.

Let me just say a few words about wardrobe: Seattle is a casual town and I’m a casual girl. This same adjective could easily be applied to the other members of the Humpday team, along with such descriptive phrases as “rumpled chic,” “skateboard punk,” “thrift store bin scrounging” or, simply, “never-occurs-to-him-that-he-could-occasionally-take-his-hoodie-off.” The level of stress hormones released into our collective bloodstreams at the mention of such terms as “black tie” and even “semi-formal” could have easily woken a heavily tranquilized pachyderm.

Somehow, miraculously (mostly through the classic trio of begging, borrowing and stealing), we each managed to gird ourselves with appropriate apparel for the occasion. (Seeing the male members of my cast and crew in tuxes was, I have to admit, an unexpectedly thrilling fringe benefit to this entire experience.)

Cannes is a remarkable combination of the highest culture and the crassest commercial dreck. Boulevard de la Croisette, the street that runs adjacent to the shoreline, is lined with large hotels, most of them quite grand. The exquisite façade of one of them, the famous Carlton Cannes, was obscured from head to toe by enormous likenesses of G.I. Joe and his spiritual brethren, the Inglourious Basterds; its front lawn had been gaudily sprayed to overflow with fake snow and a large Jim-Carrey-in-A-Christmas-Carol Christmas tree. A few feet away, a billboard of Jean-Claude Van Damme glowered down, aggressively asking: “Can the Master of the Ancient Arts Conquer the Caged Fighters of Las Vegas?” (An intriguing question that I still find myself chewing over daily…)

La Croisette is jammed with humanity. So jammed that traversing from one end to the other becomes at times perilous. (The situation is not helped by the presence of vulture-like photographers skulking at the curb, waiting to inhibit your already tortoise-like progress with their best imitation of your own personal paparazzi, the photographic results of which you are expected to pay for yourself, naturally.)
None of this unpleasantness matters of course, because you are in the south of France. The food is incredible, the weather (mostly) perfect and the language a genuine salve to the ears. Then there are the French.

The French are not only more attractive than mere mortals—our film’s publicist, Camille, looked like an even prettier version of Julie Delpy—but they are better versed in film, art history, politics, literature, cultural theory, languages not their own and philosophy. They also seemed quite bent on bringing every drop of this excessive knowledge to the fore during my Q&As and press interviews. I therefore found myself directing most of my energy toward trying to hide my own American dunderheadedness. (One kind, yet still intimidating, woman quoted Nietzsche to me “as a gift.” Oddly, it actually felt like one!)

The feeling that I was living someone else’s life reached its apex the day of our official screening. The feeling started to climb as my face and hair were being prettified by ex-models at the complimentary L’Oreal Spa; it continued to rise as Monsieur Père clinked champagne flutes with us at our pre-screening toast; it went higher still as I teetered in my ridiculously pointy (borrowed) Nicole Miller pumps to the stage to introduce my film; up and up it soared as the audience laughed and squirmed even whilst reading subtitles; and finally, the pinnacle was reached as the end credits rolled.

No one had prepared me for what was to come at the end of the film. I guess that’s because sometimes the audience boos or walks out silently. But when they approve of your film, they clap. I mean, they clap! And if they clap loudly enough, and if enough of them stand while clapping, then a spotlight finds you in the crowd and you are expected to stand and receive the love. Which is awesome, unless you are totally unprepared for this and you can’t get your pointy shoes (“wicked” my husband called them) back on again because you’re trying to put them on the wrong feet.

Even then, however, in this ridiculed state, once you finally manage to stand, basking in the embarrassing glow of a minutes-long standing ovation at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, it’s pretty f’ing incredible. MM

Humpday is in theaters now.

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