Destin Daniel Cretton on His Early Years as a Filmmaker and Why He Loves Sanitation Workers (Exclusive)

The "Short Term 12" filmmaker, who was recently hired to direct Marvel's "Shang-Chi," presented his breakthrough film at Aspen Shortsfest last night.
Destin Daniel Cretton
Destin Daniel Cretton
Hal Williams

Aspen Shortsfest played a feature for the first time in more than a decade last night, and it had good reason: “Short Term 12,” the movie in question, was writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s expansion of his short film of the same name. Cretton was on hand to mark the occasion, speaking for 30 minutes after the screening about his early years as a filmmaker, his admiration of garbage men, and why he went to college for filmmaking in the first place.

“I was not a cinephile, but I was addicted to going to the theater,” he said of his formative years. “I grew up on Maui, and in a small island in the middle of the Pacific you don’t really get a lot of independent cinema coming out there, so it was mainly big blockbuster movies that I grew up on. It wasn’t until I went to college in San Diego that I was first introduced to Lars Von Trier. One of the first independent movies I saw was ‘Breaking the Waves,’ and I was depressed for, like two weeks after that movie; I had no idea that a movie could affect you in that way.”

Not long after that, Cretton made his first real short, which he described as “a little black-and-white thing that I shot on Super 8.” Sharing that with other filmmaking students, he said, was a special experience — as was presenting “Short Term 12” last night. “It kind of weirdly makes me feel like there’s a little hope in the world, that humans can connect on this level,” Cretton said. “There’s something that is just very moving for me, so I appreciate all you guys.”

He then spoke of his love of garbage men, as they used to throw tennis balls to him and his friends as a kid. “We would just wait for them to come and throw tennis balls at us,” he recalled fondly.

Last month, Cretton was hired by Marvel Studios to direct “Shang-Chi,” based on the Kung Fu comic-book character of the same name. Watch the full conversation below.

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