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Review: ‘Short Term 12’

SDSU Grad Brings His SXSW Grand Jury Winner To San Diego

Brie Larson stars as Grace in the indie film,

Credit: Cinedigm

Above: Brie Larson stars as Grace in the indie film, "Short Term 12."

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


SDSU grad Destin Cretton proves that you can go from film school to indie success. His new film "Short Term 12" (opening September 13 at Arclight and Landmark Theaters) arrives after garnering the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at SXSW.

“A film about kids and the grown-ups who hit them.” That was the terse tagline filmmaker Destin Cretton used for his 2008 short film “Short Term 12” (which I am proud to have screened at my Film School Confidential Showcase).The film focused on Denim, the supervisor in a residential facility housing 15 kids who are all affected by child abuse and neglect.

"My first job out of college was working at a group home for at-risk teenagers," Cretton said, "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.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Cinedigm

Brie Larson is a supervisor at a foster care facility in "Short Term 12."

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; In the film, she confronts her boss about a young girl who has been allowed to return to a potentially dangerous home environment.

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.

"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," Cretton said.

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

"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," Cretton said.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Destin Cretton

Filmmaker Destin Cretton in 2009 heading to Sundance with his short film "Short Term 12," which won the Grand Jury Prize for short film that year.

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

"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," Cretton explained. "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 (played by John Gallagher, Jr.) makes a toast to his foster parents. He thanks them for taking him in, giving him a home and teaching him what it means to be loved.

"The movie is about family," Cretton said. "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" (rated R for language and brief sexuality) 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.

Companion viewing: "Drakmar: A Vassal's Journey," "Short Term 12" (2008 short, available in iTunes), "I Am Not A Hipster"

NOTE: Writer/director Destin Cretton and producer Ron Najor will be holding Q&A's at the following screenings in San Diego this weekend:

Friday: Arclight La Jolla 7:45pm

Saturday: ArcLight La Jolla 5:15PM and Landmark Hillcrest 7:10PM

Sunday: Landmark Hillcrest 2:00PM and ArcLight La Jolla 5:15PM


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