Destin Daniel Cretton (Publicity photo courtesy Lionsgate)

From Haiku to Hollywood: Filmmaker keeps it in the ohana

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Text Summit Staff

Opening in theaters nationwide this weekend is the second feature from a talented filmmaker who has come a long way from a humble upbringing in a ramshackle family home on Maui to work in film with an extended ohana, both behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera in the form of a current Oscar winner.

Destin Daniel Cretton gave Brie Larson her breakout role in his 2013 indie Short Term 12. Both received critical accolades for bringing to the screen the story of a young woman who supervises a residential treatment facility for at-risk teenagers. Since then, Larson won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Room, starred in the big studio movie Kong: Skull Island, and is currently working on her lead role in the anticipated superhero project Captain Marvel.

But before getting into cosmic costume, Larson teamed up with Cretton once again to make The Glass Castle, an adaptation of the award-winning memoir by Jeannette Walls. It's Cretton's first studio film, working with a bigger budget that enabled the casting of such formidable Oscar nominated talents as Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. In the adaptation co-written by Cretton and Adam Lanham, Larson portrays the grown-up Walls, dealing with the past of being part of a deeply dysfunctional family who led a creative and decidedly unorthodox life.

In a recent Vanity Fair profile, the 38-year-old Cretton -- who grew up the second oldest of six -- said his own familial instabilities in his Haiku household echoed Walls's, as alcoholism played a part in both of their childhoods. "The way that she is constantly redefining traumatizing situations in a positive light, but not in a naïve, cheesy positive light—in a ‘fuck you pain, I’m going to beat you,’ positive light. The way that she uses humor and gritty optimism to push through things that would bury other people. I think it’s a very beautiful thing that I strive to do in my life," he says.

As for his formative years on Maui, Cretton remembers that he and his siblings "were always forced to create our own entertainment, which came in the form of plays, martial arts routines, building forts outside and eventually, when my grandma loaned me her big VHS camera when I was about 10, it then turned into making movies with my siblings.”

In another interview with Moviemaker magazine, he says "there was a lot of really complicated love in my family. Everyone adored each other, but we were very imperfect, and a lot of our relationships were that mixture of volatility and love that is throughout The Glass Castle.”

After high school, Cretton joined his friends in attending a small Christian college in San Diego called Point Loma Nazarene University. Still, he said leaving a remote area of Maui was a culture shock. “I never knew I had an accent. I didn’t know people couldn’t understand me. I did feel pretty alone, and it was difficult," he told Vanity Fair.

But he persevered, first making wedding videos and short films before moving on to bigger projects. “It’s been a very slow journey for me,” he says. “I’ve never had a lot of confidence, and so it took me a very long time to admit —to myself or to others— that [directing] is something I would like to try to do. It still feels weird to say that I am a director, and it always feels weird to say that I’m a writer.” But he's definitely both now, and well on his way to becoming a noteworthy film talent.

In making The Glass Castle, Cretton worked with the core crew that worked with him on his first major feature, including cinematographer Brett Pawlak, and sister and costume designer Joy Cretton. "When I find somebody who I can trust to be vulnerable around and to be fully myself, and they happen to be really good at what they do, I will try to work with them forever.”

As for his next project, Cretton has already begun adapting his next novel: Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of fighting racial injustice as a lawyer in the 1980s. Michael B. Jordan is attached to star.

The Glass Castle opens Aug. 11.

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