Finding A Voice

For Filmink: Writer/director, Destin Daniel Cretton, expands his award-winning short for his debut feature, ‘Short Term 12’, a gutsy and powerful portrait of a home for at-risk teens.

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Writer/director, Destin Daniel Cretton, expands his award-winning short for his debut feature, ‘Short Term 12’, a gutsy and powerful portrait of a home for at-risk teens.

The past four years have been a whirlwind dream for writer/director, Destin Daniel Cretton, and his buzzed about debut feature, Short Term 12. Based on his experiences working at a shared home facility for fostered teenagers, Cretton took his 20-minute short film to Sundance in 2009, snagging the Jury Prize. Adapted into a feature film script, it became one of five screenplays in 2010 to win the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship.

Our entry point into the story comes via Grace, a twenty-something supervisor at a shared foster care facility in San Diego. She’s a passionate, tough and formidable caretaker of the kids in her charge, in love with boyfriend and co-worker Mason. But she faces a tough challenge in Marcus, an intense boy who is about to turn 18 and leave the facility and new arrival Jayden, a gifted but troubled girl. Helping these two teens sees Grace confronted by her traumatic past.

Wanting to give these teenagers a voice, Cretton wanted the film to be as authentic as possible. “We tried to create an environment that allowed for the best performances and some of these including filming handheld and less movement from the actors,” the filmmaker explains. “There are a million reasons these stories should be heard. For me the biggest reason is because they are one of the few citizens in the USA who don’t have their own voice because of privacy laws, but also because they can’t control the rules or policies that affect them.”

Starring as Grace is up and coming actress Brie Larson. Having played the apathetic Kate Gregson in the Showtime series, United States of Tara, and starred in 21 Jump Street, Greenberg and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Short Term 12 allows this actress to reveal her raw talent. “She’s wonderful on so many levels,” Cretton says about his leading lady, who was recently awarded the Best Actress Award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards for her exceptional turn. “Just as an actor, she’s a very exciting person to work with; her instincts are firing as we’re rolling the camera. She’s a wonderful, serious, empathetic human being and that curiosity and empathy was perfect for her to play Grace.”

Meticulously researching these facilities and interviewing former employees, Cretton ensures the film never becomes overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative. “Some of the stories of these kids were taken straight from my tape recordings of these interviews and put directly into the script,” the filmmaker recalls. “Some of them were incredible.”

Despite featuring an array of talented young actors in the roles of these teens, the story belongs to Grace as her life comes to a head and a downward spiral ensues. “I was interested in the idea of every experience that she’s having throughout the course of the movie is pulling something out of her, it’s holding a mirror up to her and showing her the issues she’s been avoiding her whole life,” Cretton reveals.

Receiving a limited release in the States, cinema-goers have already requested the film should be distributed to their local cinemas after the glowing reviews and accolades it’s received. “The stories we worked fitted well because they are a complete mixture of sad, tragic and horrible moments that rip your guts out and moments that are hopeful, fun and full of life,” said Cretton.

Short Term 12 will be released on 26 December exclusively to Dendy Newtown in Sydney and Cinema Nova in Melbourne.

Originally published on FilmInk Magazine online, December 17, 2013.

Watch the trailer for Short Term 12 here:


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