Adrienne Shelly was the underground queen of indie cinemaâ€”an inspiration and champion for all her subjectsâ€”before her untimely murder in November of 2006. Earning modest success as an actress early on, Shelly stood out in films (including The Unbelievable Truth and Trust) by fellow Long Island native Hal Hartley. But while audiences might venture to understand the multifaceted moviemaker through her on-screen performances, it is Shelly’s off-screen work for which she strived to be better known. That is the work that can best tell the tale of her reign.
As an active advocate for female moviemakers, Shelly promoted her cause in the documentaries Searching for Debra Winger by Rosanna Arquette and In Their Own Words for IFC. As part of the New York film community she became a founding board member of the Gen Art Film Festival and passed along her moviemaking skills to students at the One on One Studios and New York University. Yet, to really know this late, great moviemaker, look no further than her own shorts and features, including the recent Sundance hit Waitress.
Out this week in limited release, Waitress is the very personal tale of pregnancy, love and baked goods that warm the soul. Written and directed by Shelly, the movie, although not autobiographical, brings to light some of the hesitant feelings of impending motherhood she herself developed with her own bun in the oven. More than that though, the movie is a culmination of Shellyâ€™s vision and art brought to life. â€œIâ€™ve never met anyone with such a strong vision–such an amazing sense of exactly what she wanted,â€ producer Michael Roiff told MM earlier this year. â€œIf you look back at her script, her stage directions arenâ€™t â€˜suggestionsâ€™â€”they are specific to the very last detailâ€”and that all shows up on screen.â€
Though her rule has tragically ended, the legacy of writer-director-actress Adrienne Shelly will be one for the history books.
Sound Off: Adrienne Shellyâ€™s life was cut short just before Sundance audiences (and now people everywhere) began falling in love with Waitress. Cinema history is full of tales of unrealized recognition. Who is your favorite moviemaker to not get his/her due until after passing?