Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Review: 'Short Term 12'

September 11, 2013 11:02 p.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the indie film "Short Term 12," directed by SDSU grad Destin Cretton.

Related Story: Review: 'Short Term 12'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SDSU grad Destin Cretton proves that you can go from film school to indie success. His new film Short Term 12 just opened in LA and New York, and opens tomorrow in San Diego. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has this review.

“A film about kids and the grown-ups who hit them.” That was the succinct tagline filmmaker Destin Cretton used for his 2008 short film “Short Term 12.” The film focused on Denim, the supervisor in a residential facility housing 15 kids who are all affected by child abuse and neglect.

CLIP This will tell you everything about the background of the kids…

DESTIN CRETTON: My first job out of college was working at a group home for at risk teenagers and it was by far the most difficult job I’ve ever had but also a section of time when I learned so much about myself and the world and how complicated things are.

Cretton has taken what he’s learned from that experience as well as the experience of making a short, and turned it into a feature, also titled Short Term 12. He keeps the complicated emotional themes but transforms the male protagonist into a female one.

CLIP okay what do you want to play today…

Brie Larson plays Grace, a supervisor at Short Term 12, a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers. She works closely with the kids, perhaps identifying too much with some of the emotional trauma they have gone through. Here she confronts her boss about a young girl who has been allowed to return to a potentially dangerous home environment.

CLIP Please cancel the pass until we figure this out because I know her and I know things are not good at home… you know this how? Because she read you a children’s story?... I am on the floor every day with those kids and she told me in the only way she knew how.

Cretton crafts an indie film that’s pitch perfect. He works with material he knows firsthand, emphasizes character development, takes his time building a story, and lets it all play out with a relaxed naturalism that fools us into thinking all he’s done is turn a camera on the real people and recorded a section of their lives. But what’s on the screen is there because of careful and thoughtful craftsmanship.

DESTIN CRETTON: What people are really connecting with on screen is this feeling of depth, that the people they are watching really are interacting with each other and to an extent it’s real because we created a community amongst the actors, the fact that their job didn’t stop when I said cut.

The result is a film that feels achingly real as it examines potentially grim events with guarded optimism and genuine compassion. Cretton says the tone comes from his own experiences and from interviewing people who work at facilities like Short Term 12.

DESTIN CRETTON: There was a balance in the stories that they were telling me between very tragic, difficult situations but also very hopeful, optimistic, and hilarious stories they were telling me, the highs are just as real as the lows.

One thing that remains a constant in Cretton’s films is the sense of community.

DESTIN CRETTON: Community is something that’s important to me it’s something that the longer I live, the more I realize how important it is to my sanity to be connected to other human beings. I feel like there are pieces of that in everything that I’ve done whether it is a character who is completely in isolation and what that means to that person and what it means to see that person connect with somebody else.

This comes through in a scene where Grace’s boyfriend makes a toast to his foster parents.

CLIP And I think I speak for everyone when I say thanks for taking us in.

DESTIN CRETTON: The movie is about family. It is about the incredible human ability to create family and community in situations that it seems like almost impossible to have that…

Short Term 12 is graced by an elegant simplicity and honesty that makes it one of the best films of the year. Kudos to Cretton, who graduated from the SDSU film department, for delivering a film that reminds us of what truly independent filmmaking can be at its best.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.