Channels Islands Documentary "West of the West" Premieres On South Coast

Mar 2, 2016

They are unique, one of a kind landmarks off our coastline which have been home to unique plants and animals, as well as some of California’s earliest residents.

But most of us don’t know a lot about the Channel Islands, and many people have never visited them.

Now, an ambitious documentary called “West of the West - Tales From California’s Channel Islands” is trying to tell the islands story.

"The idea behind it is to tell the human history of these islands we all see when we drive up and down along the coast, but most of us know very little if anything about," says filmmaker Sam Tyler. "They create a sense of mystery, of curiosity, they have a fascinating history that goes back 14,000 years and continues right until today."

Documentary filmmakers Sam Tyler, Peter Seaman and Brent Sumner teamed up for the project. The three Santa Barbara County men realized telling the story of the islands wouldn’t be easy: "From a filmmaking point of view, we learned you cannot take 14,000 years of history and approach it in a linear fashion, that would be a hundred-hour long movie!"

The solution? "Our colleague Peter Seaman came up with the idea," Tyler says, "let's take some tales, some human interest stories that collectively represent the 14,000 years."

Tyler gives some examples of the stories highlighted in the documentary:

"We have the story of the Arlington Springs man, the oldest known human remains in North America, we have the story of the lone woman of San Nicholas Island, the inspiration for the book 'Island of the Blue Dolphins,' we've the story of the Vail and Vickers cattle ranch on Santa Rosa island, so we broke it into 14 tales that collectively tell 14,000 years of history."

Tyler says they shot the documentary over a three year period, ending up with so much footage and so many interviews with archaeologists, biologists and other experts that they realized they wouldn’t even need a narrator.

It was a project they decided to do because the Channel Islands had stories which they felt needed to be told, so they didn’t take salaries and the film was done as a non-profit project.

"People felt I was a little crazy for putting in this much time," Tyler says, "the same with Pete Seaman, he's a noted Hollywood screenwriter, he wrote 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' he wrote 'Shrek the Third,' he wrote 'Wild Wild West,' he's a serious A-level screenwriter!"

The film runs two and a half hours, with a 15 minute intermission. It’s being split into three hour long programs for airing on PBS television stations throughout the state this spring. Tyler  says that for him, "What it really represents is a big part of America's lost history. There are stories that folks just don't know."

Saturday’s “West of the West” at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater is already sold out, but there are a few tickets left for Sunday’s 7 p.m. showing. There will be four screenings in Ventura on Sunday.

They’ll take place at noon, 2:30 p.m., 5, and 7:45 p.m. at the Century 10 Theaters in downtown Ventura.

Tickets for the Ventura showings are free, but you must get them from the Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center, at Ventura Harbor between now and Friday.