I just arrived here in L.A. for the Spirit Awards and was stunned to hear that filmmaker Garrett Scott died yesterday. He was a great documentarian, a thoughtful colleague here in the NYC indie world, and a friend, and this is really an incredible loss. Scott was at the beginning of his career but on the basis of his two docs — Cul de Sac and Occupation: Dreamland, co-directed with Ian Olds — his was a great talent. He was able to synthesize an astutely critical take on contemporary society and politics with a real empathy for his subjects. Watch Occupation: Dreamland, think of the months Scott was embedded with the soldiers in Iraq, and realize by watching the footage he shot of them how much they respected him and how they were able to open up in his presence.
My conversations with Scott would always revolve around two subjects. The first was the difficulty of distributing independent media in the States today, and I wound up really respecting the time and energy he put into his hands-on, grass roots approach, efforts which paid off with the numerous citations — including tomorrow’s Spirit Award nomination — Occupation: Dreamland received. But we’d also talk about all of his future projects — a Harvey Milk doc that was also a psychic history of San Francisco, and films that would take him to Afghanistan and Colombia. He had great ideas, great energy, and a great spirit. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.
Here’s what I wrote about Garrett in Filmmaker as one of our 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2002:
GARRETT SCOTT had intended to become an English professor while at University of Wisconsin grad school when a bizarre event occurred in his hometown of San Diego. A local man stole an Army tank from a nearby base and went on a joyride through a city suburb, destroying cars, fire hydrants and traffic poles. Shawn Nelson – a crystal-meth user who had previously embarked on a delusional search for gold by mining his backyard – envisioned the act as a protest against an uncaring city government. But, after a 30-minute chase, police boarded the tank and shot Nelson dead.
For Scott, 33, the event was the catalyst that pulled him from academia and transformed him into a filmmaker. “I was having doubts about an academic career,” he says. “Then, when this guy stole the tank, something just clicked.”
What clicked was Scott’s unique doc-style, which is one-part subcultural talking head and two parts intellectual essay. Intercut with hypnotic helicopter footage of the man’s carnage-filled ride – footage that evokes both video games as well as television’s predilection for slow-speed chases – Scott’s superb and smart one-hour doc, Cul de Sac, provides personal insights from the man’s family and neighbors, explains San Diego’s reputation as the crystal-meth capital of the U.S., and finally develops into a surprisingly moving essay on the dialectic between the American dream and the military industrial complex.
Of his style, Scott comments, “I’m very interested in the way abstractions of history and geography affect people’s immediate world, how they dovetail with the personal. Many of us are acting things out that we can’t comprehend, and to catch little glimpses of that once in a while seems like a worthwhile project.”
Cul de Sac premiered at the New York Underground Film Festival this past spring, but, for now, Scott is back to waiting tables for a living. Although he has a follow-up project (“I’ll be re-examining the Harvey Milk murder by looking at it as an event in the history and geography of San Francisco”) Scott says he’s hesitant to call himself a full-time filmmaker. “I’m suspicious of careers because you have to produce a certain kind of product to sustain one, whether its film or academia,” he remarks. “But I think I can hustle myself through one more project.” – Scott Macaulay