Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story

The DVD includes a booklet with two essays written especially for this releaseChristian Parenti on the film's historical context and Ian Olds, the editor of Cul de Sac, on his work with director Garrett Scott.

In May 1995, Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Clairemont, California, emerged from an eighteen foot mine shaft he had dug beneath his backyard in search for gold. An ex-soldier and methamphetamine abuser, he stole a tank from a nearby National Guard armory and went on a rampage through the residential streets of his neighborhood, crushing cars and lampposts until the cops took him down.

CUL DE SAC goes far beyond this apparently minor news story and provides extensive political, economic and social context that ties Nelson's life to the larger story of a working class community in decline.

Newsreels of a fat, happy San Diego in the 50s and 60s, the perfect representation of middle class aspirations for economic prosperity, are juxtaposed with contemporary images of shuttered defense plants, jobless blue-collar suburbanites, drug abusers, and police on patrol. Statements from police, historians and real estate agents sketch out the rise and fall of this military-fueled boomtown, and trace the area's social ills back to World War II, the Vietnam War and recent layoffs.

"[A] terse, scrupulous film, the footage punctuates a bleak tale of a defense-industry town's boom and bust — once a Cold War capital of airplane and missile production, the San Diego suburb has decayed into a strip-mall wasteland" —The Village Voice

"Brilliant… Each time CUL DE SAC revisits Nelson's low-speed tank chase, he seems less like a standard-issue nut-job loner and more like a military/industrial Frankenstein's monster, haunted by (and hunted for) other people's sins."—New York Press

"Thoughtful, unpredictable, and gripping... an engrossing true-life story. More important, it's a brilliant cultural and political essay, packed with insights into grass-roots attitudes about violence and war." —Christian Science Monitor

"This is a truly poignant film, showing how, to paraphrase Mike Davis, under a thin veneer of Californian sunshine, there lurks the murky suburban reality of the American military-industrial complex." —Anthropology Review Database

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Garrett Scott

Select Accolades

  • 2003 Society for Cinema Studies Conference Film Festival
  • 2002 Toronto International Film Festival
  • Best Director, 2002 CinemaTexas International Film Festival
  • 2002 Chicago Underground Film Festival
  • 2002 New York Undergound Film Festival
  • 2002 CineVegas Film Festival
  • 2002 Flaherty Film Seminar


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