Islands to play starring role in documentary

Alan De Herrera, founder of Rio Films, and crew at the Channel Islands. De Herrera plans to direct and produce a 45-minute documentary on the islands for educational and historical purposes. Photo by Joel Ball

If a Fullerton filmmaker has his way, the Channel Islands will soon be making its first starring role in a film. Don’t bother to check the Hollywood trades, however. Alan De Herrera, founder of Rio Films, is in pre-production for an environmental documentary that encompasses the history, environment and ecology of the islands just off the Southern California coast. The only other documentary about the island is a 20-minute film made by the Channel Islands National Park

in 1980.

De Herrera hopes to highlight the beauty of the unique archipelago, consisting of five islands, while illustrating some of the dangers to the islands that humankind’s misuse of the coast and waters are introducing. These threats include over-fishing, oil exploration and pollution from DDT, and PCBs.

As described on the company’s Web site, “A refuge of wild and natural beauty, the island topography ranges from the wild grasslands of Santa Rosa and the sand dunes of San Miguel Island to the largest sea cave in the world, which tunnels over 1,200 feet into Santa Cruz Island, and the commanding sea cliffs of Anacapa Island that tower over the ocean. The Channel Islands are the home of several endangered species including the island fox, the California brown pelican, and northern fur seals.”

Between finishing shots for their current production on sea lions, Rio Films is writing grants and raising funds for the Channel Islands project. De Herrera and company have already enlisted the participation of the International Bird Research and Rescue Center (IBRRC), whose Southern California office is based in San Pedro. The IBRRC has managed the oilbird rehabilitation efforts in scores of oil spills, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

The filmmakers also plan to feature research conducted by Sarah Fangman, research coordinator for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS). Fangman’s work is conducted in a deep sea submersible, and includes sea-floor geologic mapping and discovering new species. More information on CINMS can be found at

The shooting schedule calls for close-ups of pinnipeds (seals and

sea lions), kelp forests, whales, dolphins and birds. The plan calls for demonstrating the abundant opportunities for recreation that the islands and the surrounding marine sanctuary provide, including hiking, camping, kayaking and scuba diving.

Rio Films first effort, “California Sea Lions,” emphasizes the dangers humans have created to sea lions. According to the company’s Web site, “Sea lions now face new threats from man’s continued abuse of the California coast. Seals and sea lions are currently under intense pressure form the commercial fishing industry. Off the California coast, seals and sea lions are drowning in fishermen’s nets, dying of cancer, choking on discarded fish netting, and showing up on our beaches with gunshot wounds.”

Rio Films is actively planning fundraising activities this fall and winter, with principal photography commencing in the spring. Interested parties and donors are encouraged to contact Alan De Herrera, Rio Films, 417 N. Orange, Fullerton, CA 92833, via email:, or by visiting the company’s Web site at