Four coworkers mingle outside on a sunny day, as one of them regales their newest member with a humorous work story. Suddenly, a young boy bursts from the building behind them, screaming and running fast. The storytelling stops and the workers immediately begin the chase, catching up with the boy and bringing him to the ground by restraining his arms and legs. The new guy looks on in confusion, even horror as, from the ground, the storyteller finishes his tale as if nothing had happened.
This is how Maui-born writer and director Destin Cretton introduces his audience to the crazy, foreign and real world of Short Term 12, which is being shown as part of the Maui Film Festival. The title refers to the group home for at-risk youths that acts as the setting for the rollercoaster of the joy, pain, horror and triumph that occurs during its 96 minutes. Based loosely on Cretton’s own experience working in just such a home for two years right out of college, it conveys the confusion and enlightenment he endured there.
“That experience was pretty crazy for me at the time,” said Cretton. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. To be honest, when I got that job and I felt totally out of place, like I was thrown into the fire. Over the course of the two years that I worked there, it went from being the most terrifying job of my life to the most rewarding and life-altering experience I’ve had.”
Beginning as a short film for his San Diego State University film school thesis project, Short Term 12 premiered at Sundance in 2009, winning the Jury Prize for the short film category. From there, Cretton transformed the screenplay and direction of the film into a feature-length encapsulation of the beauty that can be found among the abuse and neglect the characters have experienced.
Numerous film festivals around the country have picked up this feature-length version–Austin, Little Rock, Seattle and Los Angeles. Cretton never imagined this hobby he became passionate about in his senior year of college would eventually lead him to film school and grow into a career.
“Slowly it went from things that I was paying for, to things people were paying me to do,” said Cretton. “Slowly. It was a very gradual thing. Even still, I’m just happy to pay rent.”
After Sundance, the distribution company Cinedigm bought Short Term 12 and plans to release it in select theaters on Aug. 23, a move Cretton describes, as his “childhood dream.” As part of the Maui Film Festival, the film will be shown at the Castle Theater in the Maui Arts and Cultural Center on June 16 and will include time for questions with Cretton after the show.
“The coolest thing about this film is the discussions I’m able to have with people afterwards,” Cretton said. “It seems to be the type of story that evokes some kind of response and hopefully inspires good conversation after the movie.”
As he returns to the Islands for his first-ever screening on Maui, Cretton remains “interested and excited and curious” to see how people react to the film. He is equally as excited about all the local grinds he plans on consuming, beginning right when he arrives with a healthy dose of Guri Guri.
“I’m probably going to get three scoops, mixed, with two pineapple, one strawberry,” said Cretton. “And then I’ll probably, if I have time, drive out to Haiku and get a Fukushima hot dog with everything on it.”
SHORT TERM 12
Not Rated/96 min
Screens Sunday, June 16 at 6pm
Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center