Image by John Hook

In his dreams, Beau Bassett can see a boy—a younger version of himself—splashing through streams in Kahalu‘u on O‘ahu’s east side, where he grew up. He’s on the hunt, looking for the black and gold fish with which to fill his aquarium. “Ohhh, swordtails,” he recalls emphatically from the law offices of Pitluck Kido and Aipa in downtown Honolulu, where he works. “I still dream about them. They play out like films in my brain.”

Years later and Bassett is still on the hunt, but this time for narratives to produce. Bassett, who took part in Native Lab in 2008, fell into filmmaking by way of lawyering. “I got into law because I had all these ideas about social change that I wanted to see reflected, and I thought the law was the answer to fix it,” he says. After attending law school in 2005 and learning the process involved that actually leads to change, Bassett realized that policy was only as valuable as the populace makes it. “So much of our understanding and identities are formed not just by what’s in front of us physically but through media, and that was a big eye-opener.”

It was on a trip to Japan during his last year in law school that affirmed his future in filmmaking. Wandering the streets of Tokyo, he saw a culture that had a firm grip on both its past and its present. He became fascinated by television programs similar to Soko Ga Shiritai on KIKU, which features everyday people doing everyday things (abalone divers in Atami, turnip farmers in Shinanoji). “For it to be common to be able to turn on the TV and access that kind of information—where even the most modern Japanese young person who’s growing up in the city and creating their own identity can still tap into that traditional culture,” he says, “I thought how amazing it was to always have that informing their identity.”

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It’s a notion that Bassett could easily identify with, growing up in the country but now living city life in Honolulu. “A lot of what inspires me is the constant tug at my spirit to address both needs, the old and new, the natural and synthetic,” says the Hawaiian-Chinese Bassett, whose childhood was marked by big family gatherings, fishing, and picking limu in front of his grandma’s house in Kāne‘ohe Bay. “I grew up loving it so much, and loving all the characters in my family really inspired me to want to tell the stories of my own family,” he says. “Then to meet different people and realize that every family is so different and yet we hold onto the same values—I feel like that’s one thing that is missing from Hawai‘i cinema, that voice that really makes it a point to say, ‘This is what’s so beautiful about this place; this is how we’re different but ultimately how we’re the same.’”

Bassett’s current project, Out of State, which he’s producing with Ciara Lacy, puts this challenge to the test. The film, which centers on Hawai‘i prisoners housed in Arizona correctional facilities who are learning to dance hula, is ultimately “about the ability of culture and art, song, dance, chant, history, and religion to aid in rehabilitating the human spirit,” according to Bassett, “rehabilitating someone to find value in themselves.”

While he aspires to do more in local film, Out of State is about all he can manage between billable hours at the law firm. One can still dream though. With the islands’ freshwater resources changing before his eyes, Bassett is eager to do more in the medium he’s found most effective to preserve the areas that practically raised him. The limu he grew up picking, for example, is now long gone, choked out by foreign species. “A big part of my future is being more involved in preserving freshwater resources,” he says. “It’s really important to my upbringing that other people from the area be able to still experience that.”

Meet the other Sundance Native Lab fellows from Hawai‘i:

Sundance-Native-Lab-FLUX-Hawaii

Ty-Sanga-FLUX-Hawaii-Sundance


Aina-Paikai-FLUX-Hawaii-Sundance

Ciara-Lacy-FLUX-Hawaii-Sundance

Christopher-Kahunahana-FLUX-Hawaii-Sundance