Independent's article on the West of the West: Near-Death to Documentary

The path of the project’s visionary, Brent Sumner, typifies the usual arc for those of us who become Channel Island fanatics, moving from casual curiosity to utter obsession overnight. When the filmmaker — best known locally for his work on Citizen McCaw, the documentary that covered the ethical and journalistic breakdown of the News-Press nearly a decade ago — moved to town in 1996, he didn’t think so much about those hunks of land offshore. But when his eyes were opened six years ago, the 49-year-old originally from Phoenix began using this documentary as a means of quenching an insatiable thirst for island stories. 

Underwater footage of the Winfield Scott shipwreck

Underwater footage of the Winfield Scott shipwreck

Sumner’s initial discovery came during a near tragedy while scuba diving in 2010, when his weight belt got stuck in the kelp as he chased a seal in about 40 feet of water off of Santa Cruz Island. He “popped to the surface like a cork,” fainted when he got home, and made his way to the hospital, fearing he’d caught the bends. While waiting for his diagnosis — no bends, thankfully—Sumner “started googling this place that I felt almost took my life.” He was soon reading two memoirs, Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife (about Ira and Margaret Eaton’s development of Pelican Bay on Santa Cruz) and The Legendary King of San Miguel(about Herbert Lester’s time on that wind-whipped isle), and then everything else he could find. 

“I became feverish about reading all this stuff,” said Sumner, who started asking people at parties what they knew about the islands, which wasn’t much. “They didn’t know people lived out there. They didn’t know how many there were,” he recalled. “I wasn’t far from them. It took me 16 years to go out there. But the more I read, the more I became convinced that it was a good story.” 

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Brent SumnerWest of the West