Young Lake Worth director debuts film about her childhood in a ‘cult’

 

BY CARLOS FRIAS | PALM BEACH POST STAFF WRITER | AUGUST 8, 2015

Director Destiny Thomas. (Photo: Courtesy of Destiny Thomas)Destiny Thomas is ready to believe in Lake Worth again.

It was just a year ago that she was finishing her first film, “My Center Will Not Hold,” determined to debut it at the annual L-Dub Film Festival and nowhere else — because to hell with Lake Worth.

Director Destiny Thomas giving instructions on the set of “My Center Will Not Hold.” (Photo: Courtesy of Destiny Thomas)
This is the town where she had quietly been raised in a crushing poverty, sometimes squatting in an abandoned office space with her parents and four siblings in a Christian fundamentalist home she calls “abusive” and a “cult.” And her film is loosely based on her life.

Yet she remembered standing in front of the Lake Worth Playhouse, shoeless, imagining herself one day a star of that stage.

“That place in specific has such a special place in my heart, so it had to premiere down there,” she said. “I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a director. I wanted to to tell stories. And the film had to premiere there. It just had to.”

Now living in Hollywood, Calif., this was a way of making a furious homecoming — and she did.

Her 11-minute-long movie won Best Short Film at the festival in January and Thomas, a rookie director, just 24, was the talk of an event filled with industry veterans. She should go to film school, they told her. And not just any school, the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles, the “Harvard of film schools” which begot the likes of Terrence Malick, director of “The Tree of Life”, David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”), and Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”).

Forget the $106,000 tuition for the two-year degree. Just getting in was an impossible dream — until it wasn’t. In June, Thomas was accepted to AFI to begin this fall.

One little problem: about that tuition …

Thomas worked with an arts nonprofit that helped her apply for loans, grants, scholarships, and in the final tally, she still owed $30,000. The first installment of nearly $10,000 — “It was $9,415 to be exact,” she said on the phone from her home in Los Angeles — was due July 31.

She started a crowdsourcing campaign and, in less than 30 days, raised just enough to cover that first payment. Now, she’s looking at Dec. 18, when the next chunk is due.

And that’s where Lake Worth came to her rescue.

She called Charlie Birnbaum, the founder of the Lake Worth Playhouse, asking for a $10-$20 donation to her cause. What she got was more than she could have dreamed.

The Stonzek Theatre at the Lake Worth Playhouse will screen her film tonight at 8 p.m. to help raise money for film school. All proceeds from the $15 tickets will go toward her education and are tax-deductible thanks to that nonprofit which has sponsored her cause, the Institute for Education, Research and Scholarships.

“One of the purposes of the film festival is to encourage local talent — and she may one day go further than anyone we’ve seen around here,” Birnbaum said. “We want to try to raise far more than I could ever contribute.”

Thomas was blown away. All her young life, she has been fighting. Home-schooled until she was 14, she said she fought with her parents for the right to go to a traditional high school. She fought to catch up to her classmates at Lake Worth High. And she fought to get into the prestigious G-Star School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, from which she graduated.

Now, it’s her hometown’s turn to fight for her.

“It’s really a story of redemption,” she said. “Charlie has redeemed everyone from my past.”

Watch the trailer at mycenterwillnothold.com.

For tickets and information, visit lakeworthplayhouse.org.