When he was filming "Short Term 12," writer-director Destin Cretton had a mantra.
"We kept telling ourselves, 'Don't leave too many fingerprints.' " That approach shaped the gritty but uplifting drama that is set in a short-term care facility for at-risk adolescents. It also determined how the film was shot, how it was lit, and how it allowed "the actors to roam."
"We were constantly asking ourselves if we were showing off too much. If we were, we tried to pull back on that."
Maui’s own film director Destin Cretton
Photo courtesy Traction Media
Now Destin can leave his fingerprints all over the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award "Short Term 12" won in March at the prestigious South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
Not bad for a Maui native who grew up with five siblings in Haiku, being mostly home schooled before he graduated from Maui High in 1996.
Maui Film Festival will screen "Short Term 12" at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 16, in Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater in Kahului. He will be there for the Q&A. Its 23-year-old star, Brie Larson, will accept the festival's Rising Star Award at 8 that night, in a gala Celestial Cinema Tribute on the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course.
"It's definitely the fulfilling of a dream," Cretton says of the success of the film, which will be distributed nationally by Cinedigm Entertainment Group. That dream began in Haiku with a boxy VHS camera on his shoulder, casting his brothers and sisters in backyard productions.
He graduated from Maui Community College, then then San Diego's Point Loma Nazarene University, majoring in communications, before going on to film school at San Diego State. In between, he spent two years working at a facility like the one depicted in his film.
"It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life, but in the end, one of the most rewarding. I felt like I grew up more in those two years than in the rest of my life."
As author Ken Kesey crafted experiences working in a veteran's hospital into the classic, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," so Destin does something similar with this moving, groundbreaking drama.
"It's definitely a fictional story, but it's rooted in an environment I was familiar with." While its characters and situations are composites, "at the base of it are the emotions and questions I experienced. Writing this story was a way for me to grapple with these questions."
The film is full of memorable characters superbly captured by its young cast, but its wellspring is the luminous performance by Larson in the role of Grace. Cretton based Grace on his own supervisor. "She appeared to be a young petite, seemingly frail girl. But she really did get the respect of those kids."
He then added layers of personal challenges for Grace to grapple with.
"Working with Brie was magical," he says. "Every morning she showed up at the set was extremely exciting for me. I knew that she would at least give what I hoped was on the page, but more often than not, she is so in the moment and so spontaneous that incredible, unexpected things would happen. That's really exciting. On and off screen, she's just a wonderful human being."
Like Grace, she provided a safe environment for the younger actors to explore and create.
Now living in Los Angeles with his career on an upswing, Cretton says, "Having grown up on Maui and being able to go back there once or twice a year to a community of people who honestly don't give a rip about Hollywood is really healthy and is a wonderful recharging experience. I'll go into a meeting with some big producer on a movie, and knowing Maui is there, and my family and my friends are there, whether or not this meeting goes well - it does take a lot of pressure off."
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org