Maui native’s film showing worldwide

As a child, Maui filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton was captivated by movies shown at the old single-screen Kaahumanu Center theater.

This weekend, a film he made will show on the big screen in the same mall.

It won’t be a special showing, either. Cretton’s critically acclaimed “Short Term 12” opened for national release in about 70 theaters nationwide last weekend and will be premiering Friday at Kaahumanu 6 theaters.

“I never thought they’d ever come to regular theaters,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s a totally different thing coming to a normal theater and (having patrons) paying money to watch something I did. . . . It’s crazy.”

The 90-minute drama follows a female supervisor in her 20s and her co-worker and boyfriend at a foster care facility for at-risk teenagers. The film is loosely based on Cretton’s experience working at a group home for two years after graduating from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

“Even though it’s open nationwide, I’m coming to Maui,” said Cretton, who is flying home Wednesday.

Born and raised in Haiku, the 34-year-old filmmaker has led a hectic life since winning a pair of awards in March at the renowned arts festival South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Cretton, a member of Maui High School’s Class of 1996, won the audience prize in the Narrative Feature Competition and the festival’s grand jury prize.

His movie was shown at the Maui Film Festival in June, and Brie Larson, who played the female supervisor, captured the festival’s Rising Star Award. Cretton has traveled to film festivals in Arkansas, Seattle and Los Angeles over the last few months – claiming more accolades.

Since then, “Short Term 12” has made forays beyond Maui and the rest of the country.

“I just got back from France, and before that I was in Switzerland, where we were in this massive theater that could fill up to 3,000 people,” he said. “That was the first time the movie was shown in front of a foreign audience, and we got this crazy standing ovation.”

Following the film’s success, a soft opening was held for the film Aug. 23 at select theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.

“We opened up small to see how things went, but because the response was so good we expanded it,” Cretton said. “The movie is still playing in those theaters.”

Cretton’s movie opened at Kahala Theaters on Oahu last week and is playing there for two weeks.

“So if Maui comes out and supports it, it’ll hopefully be out as long as it’s been in Kahala,” he added.

Showtimes for “Short Term 12” had not been scheduled for Kaahumanu Theaters as of Sunday evening, but Cretton said he will be conducting question-and-answer sessions at showings Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s also something special because Kaahumanu Theaters is the first place I watched films, back when they were down where the Liberty House was,” he said of the theater’s 1990s location next to the old department store that is now Macy’s. “I honestly think ‘Short Circuit’ was the first movie I saw . . . and now I’m showing ‘Short Term 12.’ ”

“When I was that young, I didn’t even understand how people made movies, so it wasn’t even a dream of mine,” said Cretton.

He recalled a scene from the 1987 science fiction film “Innerspace,” where actor Dennis Quaid is miniaturized and enters Martin Short’s body.

“I walked out of the theater and my 9-year-old brain was trying to figure out how they made a camera small enough to go inside the human body,” he said “I thought it was all real and magical.

“There’s no way I could even fathom that I would be making movies today.”

Cretton’s mother, Janice Tajiri Cretton, recalled taking her son to “Pinocchio” and “Superman” movies as a child. During those days, she said he was a “deep thinker” and always “one to ask questions nobody would think of.”

“It’s like a dream,” she said. “I can’t believe that his movie is now in theaters across the country. It’s unbelievable.”

The second oldest of six children, Destin Daniel Cretton grew up in a small, three-bedroom house and shared a room with his three brothers. He found his love for filmmaking when he was about 8 years old and would spend days filming his siblings with a camera his grandmother gave him.

“He was the filmmaker, and we would be the audience,” his mother said. “He’s definitely a humble person, though, so I know that God has rewarded him and that’s why this is all happening for him.”

The moviemaker’s father, Daniel Cretton, also mentioned his son’s humbleness and commended him for how he has handled his new found success.

“He’s not letting it go to his head,” said his father. “They’ve been flying him all around the world, and he’s won all these awards . . . but he took time out to make a trip and see how I was doing with my mom.”

About three weeks ago, Cretton took time to visit his terminally ill grandmother. She died the day he arrived and visited with her in Tennessee.

“He had all this going on, but he stopped to be with his grandma and me before he went to (Los Angeles),” his father said. “That moved me more than all the success of the movie to tell you truth.”

After the official premiere on Maui, Cretton plans to continue his globetrotting over the next month to show his film.

“I’ll visit seven countries, which is kind of crazy, because they all kind of blend together,” he said. “It’s a good thing I have my grounding on Maui, so I have time to slow down and keep my sanity.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at