Filmed in the jungles, waters, and urban nightscapes of Oahu, Hawaii, CHIEF is a short film that defies categorization -- though if you had to try, you might call it a Polynesian tragicomic film-noir. CHIEF was written and directed by Brett Wagner, whose previous feature film, FIVE YEARS, played 30 festivals around the world and is currently in distribution. Producer Dana Hankins has a long list of Hollywood and independent film credits, including PICTURE BRIDE (Sundance '95). The cinematographer is Paul Atkins, who has spent twenty years shooting films in the natural world for National Geographic, and whose second-unit cinematography on MASTER AND COMMANDER helped earn that film an Academy Award. The editor, Jay K. Evans, has been the top commercial editor in Hawaii for twenty years. CHIEF features the performances of two first-time actors: Chief Sielu Avea, a genuine high-ranking Samoan Chief, and Ka’alaka’i Faurot, a startlingly talented eight-year-old actress.
Semu Fatutoa drives a taxi in Honolulu, Hawaii. Once he was a village Chief in Samoa, but tragedy compelled him to cover his tattoos and flee his home. Now he drives in circles, slowly forgetting his old life. But his old life is looking for him. And a young Hawaiian girl, separated from her family on the eve of a disastrous day, desperately needs his help.
Honolulu, Hawaii: the crossroads of the Pacific. It's the place you go if your own island isn’t big enough. It's the place you go to disappear. Semu Fatutoa was once a highly ranked Samoan Chief. Technically, he still is; the tattoos shrouding his legs are immutable proof of the pain he endured to earn his title. But those tattoos cost him something else: His daughter, nine year old Aveolela, drowned in the ocean on the day Semu received the tattoos. Weakened by the grueling ceremony, he lacked the strength to swim out to save her. No one blamed him for her death, but Semu blamed the tattoos. Rather than assume his chiefly duties, he fled. Two years later and thousands of miles from home, Semu is the only cab driver in Honolulu with the rank of Chief. He ferries tourists and Japanese businessmen to and from the airport. He drives in circles, keeps his legs covered, and slowly forgets his old life. But his old life wants him back. First, there is the mysterious Samoan staking out his apartment in Waikiki, calling him on the phone, following him home from the beach. Then there are the news reports: An earthquake on the Big Island threatens to unleash a tsunami on the city of Honolulu; anyone with any sense is heading for higher ground. Probably the Chief would go, too, except for the eight year-old Hawaiian girl wandering the city in her bathing suit. She has crossed his path twice today, and both times he let her go. But now the girl's intrusion into his sequestered life begins to feel to Semu like a message. A calling. Any minute now, these streets will be silenced by a wall of water. Semu begins to realize that it's high time he started living up to his title.