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Destin Cretton’s Sundance Journal

Filmmaker Destin Cretton with his DVDs for Sundance. (Ryan Fernandez)

(NOTE: Destin Cretton, whose films I have showcased at Film School Confidential, will be guest blogging about his Sundance experiences now through January 25)

It was the day before Thanksgiving of 2008 when my phone rang, displaying a number I didn't recognize. I answered and heard some voice claiming he was from Sundance and that my new film, Short Term 12 , had been accepted into the 2009 festival. I called him a liar and tried to figure out which one of my friends was cruel enough to pull a prank like that. But then he started talking about the movie, what he liked about it, why they chose it above the thousands of others they viewed. I was quiet for a moment. Then I asked him, "How do I know you're telling me the truth right now?" He laughed and thought I was kidding, and I thought he was avoiding the question. But here I am, a month and a half later, lying in bed the night before flying to Park City, Utah to screen a film at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Short Term 12 is a 22-minute narrative film that I wrote and directed, which is based on experiences I had working at a residential facility for at-risk teenagers. I shot the film with the help of an incredible cast and crew who all donated their time and talents because they were passionate about telling this story.

I was able to go to Sundance last year as a spectator with my friend and fellow filmmaker, Lowell Frank. For us, it was an entire week that we could watch four movies a day and not feel guilty. I just remember thinking how incredible it would be to have a film projected on one of those screens. Not because it's "Sundance," and everyone would think I'm cool, but because the audience there was just so in love with movies. During the moments before a film would start, I could feel the excitement buzzing through the seats, finding its way out through knees bouncing, feet tapping, hands searching for phones to check one more time that they're on vibrate. Every so often, I'd meet the gaze of a perfect stranger, an old man with big eyebrows sitting five seats over, and we would smile and nod, like two kids who knew the same secret, that the movie was about to begin. It's actually really weird to be going back there one year later with a film that's in the festival. It can get a little stressful, trying to get all the right forms and papers to the right people and printing cards and posters, and burning a hundred DVDs and putting them in cases and begging my roommates to help me put them together and replying to that email from the guy who wants me to send him that thing and staying up until 2 am to write a blog about my experience going to Sundance when I should probably be sleeping. Sometimes I just subconsciously stop what I'm working on and stare at some irrelevant object (my big green pillow that looks like a tic-tac, my energy-saving fluorescent light bulb, a raisin) asking myself this question repeatedly in my head, or sometimes out loud, "What am I supposed to be doing right now?" And the truth is, I don't ever really know. But what I do know is this: I'm getting on a plane tomorrow with my stack of DVDs and some long underwear I'm borrowing from my grandpa, and I'm going to Sundance for 10 days in order to accomplish 3 things: watch good movies, meet cool people, and build my very first snowman (I grew up on Maui, so I'm a bit snow deprived). I'll send another update when I get there.

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