In the early days of the the pandemic, Berkeley-based, independent production company Pedal Born Pictures, founded by brothers Jacob Seigel Brielle and Isaac Seigel-Boettner, made two beautiful films for Berkeleyside showing what the city looked like on lockdown, one shot from a drone, the other from the street. Pedal Born’s bread and butter is telling stories through film for clients like National Geographic, World Bicycle Relief, Bellwether Coffee and UC Berkeley.
Their latest project, however, is not a film. It’s a book.
For the past seven years the pair have been working with a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Middle School on a dynamic “untextbook” about the California Channel Islands.
Titled Island Visions, it weaves together hand-drawn illustrations and maps with stories, poems and musings by those who know the islands best: Chumash, scientists, fishermen, park rangers, surfers, sea urchins and more. The hope, they say, is that the book will inspire students of all ages (including big kids) with the wonder of this incredible place, California and “our little blue marble as a whole” while everyone is staying closer to home this winter.
Berkeleyside spoke with Jacob Seigel Brielle about the project.
What is ‘Island Visions’?
It might sound hokey, but this is a book about wonder. The wonder that exists in our front and backyards. The wonder of the natural world that is often right in front of us, but for whatever reason doesn’t catch our attention. Wonder that — especially this year — feels so important to recognize and embrace.
We grew up in Santa Barbara with the Channel Islands right there on the horizon. We saw them nearly every day, but never really stopped to think about what mysteries they might hold. For Island Visions, we worked with a team of scientists, educators, and storytellers to shed light on the wonders of these often-overlooked isles…and show how deeply connected we all are to their shores, whether we live in Santa Barbara, Berkeley, or on the other side of the planet.
As filmmakers, why did you decide to make a book?
There is something really tangible and rewarding about cracking open a book. We love moving images, but also recognize that different stories merit different mediums. We wanted to create a storytelling-vehicle that could be taken down to the beach and read on the sand, in the dirt in the backyard, or up on a hill in view of the waves. While screens are incredible, we think that there is something really valuable about being able to open a book and dive in, without the desire to click away, or go to the next video in the queue.
Island Visions also gave us a great excuse to spend a lot of time at the Public Library and browsing the shelves at Pegasus and Books Inc., both for research and inspiration. As the sons of two school teachers, we grew up in local bookstores, and loved the opportunity to “go back to school” on this project. There are so many amazing books out there bringing nature to life, and we are excited to add ours to the shelves!
The book doesn’t have a single author, but rather many contributors. What made you decide on this format?
During our time as undergrads at UC Berkeley (Jacob in Peace and Conflict Studies and Isaac in Film Studies), we learned first hand the power of stories to communicate big ideas. Grappling with big issues like climate change and plastic pollution can get incredibly overwhelming. But when you break them down into stories told by real, relatable individuals, they get so much more personal and relatable.
As we started researching the Channel Islands, we realized that there were so many other incredible storytellers — experts from all walks of life — who could speak to the wonders of this place far better than we could. What better way to learn about fisheries than from an urchin diver, or ocean acidification from a marine scientist? Who better to tell Chumash origin stories than an elder who has told them countless times?
Island Visions might be a book, but we wanted to bring our documentary editing experience to the page, weaving together stories on paper just as we would interviews and moments in a film.
The book starts at the Channel Islands, but opens up pretty quickly. What makes it appeal to those who can’t see the islands out their window?
From the beginning, we saw the Channel Islands as a jumping off point to understanding our relationship with this little blue marble we call Earth — which is in and of itself very much an island. We wanted to highlight what makes the Channel Islands so unique, from the tiny island fox to the towering kelp forests. We also wanted to show how uniquely vulnerable and connected to the mainland they are: how the island fox almost went extinct due to our use of DDT on the mainland, and how kelp forests and their residents are impacted by human-induced climate change. The Channel Islands are a perfect example of how our actions as humans can impact both the local and the global.
We also wanted to showcase how many diverse voices from around the world can speak to the importance of these islands. We were incredibly fortunate to get contributions from a few amazing Bay Area-based experts, including world-renowned ocean scientist Dr. Sylvia Earle, Liz Taylor of Alameda’s DOER Marine, and Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, who wrote an amazing book about the impact of water on our minds.
Where can people pick up a copy?
We are currently working on local bookstore distribution, but right now folks can pick up a copy directly from our publishing partner Maps.com.
What is next for Pedal Born Pictures?
Right now we are working hard to get this book out to both the general public and teachers looking for a bit of wonder to help bring their classrooms, especially in this crazy year where students are having to spend so much time in front of a screen.
That said, we are starting to look into a few more story- and place-based book ideas. Nothing really brings a big idea home better than a tale from your backyard