Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photos by Sue Hudelson
Destin Daniel Cretton doesn’t look a Hollywood guy. He wears hooded sweatshirts to movie premieres—even important ones — and is more apt to make silly faces at the camera than to assume a self-important pose. Schmoozing is anathema to the creative, candid 34-year-old writer and director. What he’s interested in is telling stories of how regular people find hope in rough seas.
Cretton lives in Los Angeles but was born and raised on Maui. He recently returned to the island to screen his muchanticipated feature film, Short Term 12, at the 2013 Maui Film Festival. The movie tells the tale of a supervisor at a foster care facility who is as troubled as the teens she watches over. The film debuted earlier in the year at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, where it netted both the Audience and Grand Jury Awards. It went on to win the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and on Maui it took the award for Narrative Feature Drama. In fact, nearly every festival Cretton attends sends him home with a winner’s plaque. He is fast gaining acclaim for making movies that tackle the toughest subjects with clarity, grace and humor.
Cretton grew up in Ha‘iku, a rural community set among pineapple and sugar cane fields on Maui’s north shore. The Cretton family’s tiny, ramshackle house could barely contain him and his five siblings; more often than not, Destin, Denim, Joy, Brook, Spring and Merrily were outdoors, exploring the wet forest barefoot or catching freshwater prawns in the nearby gulch. Their father, Daniel Cretton, worked for the fire department. Their mother, Janice, a New York-trained hairdresser, homeschooled her tribe for religious reasons. The seeds of Christian charity she sought to plant found fertile soil; today each of her children possesses a humanitarian streak and is quick to lend a hand or a flash a smile.
The Cretton kids weren’t allowed to watch television, so they acted out dramas, commercials and magic shows of their own. When their grandma lent them a video camera, their productions began to get professional. One peek through the camcorder’s viewfinder and Destin was hooked. He began filming his older brother Denim’s surf adventures and marshaling his younger brother and sisters onto make-do sets, handing out scripts and stage directions. A director was born.