A young, skinny redhead runs screaming from the building. Three casually-dressed 20-somethings sprint after him, pinning him to the ground and speaking calm words to quiet the escaping child.
The first scene of “Short Term 12” opens with a typical morning at the group home for at-risk kids. It is Nate’s first day, and his uncertainty is visible as he watches Grace and Mason (actors Brie Larson and John Gallagher, Jr.) run after the child without hesitation.
The film follows the daily trials of foster-care facility workers. The teens’ hardships and struggles are woven in with the relationship of Grace and Mason, who are battling their own personal demons.
Begun in 2008 as a Master’s thesis project at San Diego State University, director Destin Daniel Cretton, 2001 PLNU grad, turned the project into a feature film. It competed at South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in March and won the prestigious Grand Jury and Audience Awards for a narrative feature.
The story is inspired by Cretton’s time working at a similar facility for troubled kids. He also gathered research and interviews from group home workers prior to completing the script.
“It was a combination of my experience and things I read,” Cretton said. “It is something truthful to me.”
The San Diego community welcomed the film’s local debut on Friday night at La Jolla’s Arclight Cinemas. Cretton, producer Ron Najor and composer Joel P. West — 2006 PLNU grad — held a Q+A after the showing.
Two of the film’s actors — Keith Stanfield, who plays Marcus, and Tanya Bitanga, who plays Nikki — also spoke to the audience. A therapist who had worked in a group home similar to the one portrayed in “Short Term 12” praised the film for its accurate depiction of real-life struggles.
“I want to tell stories that create real, genuine community,” Cretton said.
And he did. The film’s story created a buzz at SXSW and continues to make vibrations to receptive audiences throughout the nation. It debuted in Los Angeles theaters on August 23 and is now open in 63 theaters across the country. One is in Cretton’s hometown theater in Maui, Hawaii, where he watched his first movie as a child.
For composer Joel P. West – who has the San Diego-based band, The Tree Ring — writing the music for the film was a unique process. After about 10 rounds of editing, West described the point when they realized the music was fitting as a “mysterious, magical, truth-telling moment.”
“The score tells you what you’re supposed to feel,” West said. “But we asked, ‘What’s the least [the music] can be?’ The performances didn’t need much else.”
Poignant scenes of love and forgiveness intertwine with moments of laughter and playfulness; sometimes humor was the only way to grapple with the dark moments. Cretton and his crew created a film depicting real struggle, heartache and the importance of community.
“Short Term 12” is now out on DVD.