San Diego 'Garrett Scott and Ian Olds," announced the actor Willem Dafoe after opening the envelope. The two had been chosen for the Truer Than Fiction Award, given at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, broadcast March 4 on the Independent Film Channel. They had won for their documentary, Occupation: Dreamland, a portrait of life in the 82nd Airborne, stationed in Fallujah, Iraq. But only Olds ascended the stage to accept the award.
"I may have a hard time getting through this," began Olds. "I don't know how many of you know, but two days ago my directing partner, Garrett Scott, died of a heart attack at the age of 37.... I didn't want to come, but I came for him." Olds faltered; the crowd broke into applause. When he spoke again, Olds praised Scott's mind and heart and then concluded with this story: "One of the soldiers in the film called me last night and said, 'You know, we've been taught not to trust anybody with a camera or a microphone' -- and this was a guy with politics far different than Garrett and myself -- 'but I knew I could trust you guys. I could trust Garrett.' That would mean a lot to Garrett -- probably more than this award.... I accept this award on his behalf, and in his honor."
Garrett Scott died on March 2, while swimming in the municipal pool in his hometown of Coronado. A memorial service was held on March 11 at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Coronado, followed by a reception at the home of his mother Lynn and then a wake aboard the William D. Evans at the Bahia Resort Hotel. The night before, a group of Scott's family, friends, and loved ones -- from his youth in Coronado, from his years in San Francisco and New York, and even from among the soldiers whose lives he put on film -- gathered at the Golden Hill home of author Mike Davis.
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"Garrett's Bay Area friends are some of my closest friends," explains Davis. "When David Reid called me and told me what happened, I said, 'We have plenty of space. Let everybody come.' People needed somewhere to meet and decompress a little before whatever they're doing tomorrow."
The walls of Davis's cozy, well-kept home, which he shares with his wife Alessandra Moctezuma and their young children, bear testimony to his sociopolitical leanings and concerns. A framed poster depicts a Russian worker rising up over a gaggle of fattened plutocrats; another urges viewers to "Protest the bombing of Madrid -- stop the Fascist slaughter of Spanish women and children"; still another reads, "Marc Antonio fights for you. Re-elect Marc Antonio -- vote row C, American Labor Party." Besides the politically minded art, there are two movie posters bearing the name of Moctezuma's great-uncle, Carlos López Moctezuma. "He was the Jack Palance of the Mexican cinema," says Davis. "He made over a hundred movies -- he was the bad guy with the mustache."
"Get some food and grog," Davis instructs the guests as they knot together in the front hall. In the kitchen is a table bearing loaves of bread, two green salads, potato salad, rotisserie chicken, and sliced strawberries. A nearby table offers Corona beer, Pillar Box Red wine, and tequila. Later, white wine and a bottle of Dewar's will appear.
The first arrivees are Scott's Coronado friends, people who grew up within a few minutes' walk of his house, went to high school with him, played water polo with him. The guys are generally tall and robust, clad in sweaters, polo shirts, striped button-downs. "You had to work your way into his fold to be accepted, which was difficult to do," recalls Evan -- but apparently once you were in, you were in. Scott didn't leave his Coronado life behind when he set out to become an artist. Evan and Kasey saw him a few months ago in San Francisco, where he had a showing of his film. Matt had hung out with Scott while he was working on his first film, the 2002 documentary Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story (about which, more later). And Jason had hooked up with him in New York a while after Scott had moved there with his longtime girlfriend Rachel.
"Everybody said that the idea that he would expire in Coronado was just sort of shocking," says Jason of Scott. "After traveling to Iraq several times, Afghanistan... There's a kind of poetic irony to it that's really strange."
"It was amazing how he was honing his skills," says Jason. "It's so tragic -- not just the personal loss." Scott had been planning to head north after his visit to Coronado and the Independent Spirit Awards to work on a film about the San Francisco political scene in the 1970s. "He was really passionate about trying to delve into that whole mystery."
"How Jim Jones was connected to all the power players in the California legislature," adds Matt. Once, Jones had been a political player. But then, "they ran Jones out of the housing authority. His ideas were too radical; he wanted to build projects in Pacific Heights. When he started his church, suddenly no one knew him. Garrett wanted to peel back the layers."
Robbie, wearing a brown zip-up sweatshirt with white piping, was not from Coronado -- he had worked with Scott on Cul De Sac, which got produced in Oakland. "A bunch of us have been talking, saying, 'It would be such a great thing to keep the San Francisco project going, in honor of Garrett.' But you kind of step back a minute, and you realize that what made Garrett's films was, you've got to have his brain."
"The thing about Garrett," says UC Davis lecturer Jayne Walker, here with her husband David Reid, "is that he was so fiercely intelligent -- he had this highly trained mind, but fortunately for the world, he didn't want to go on and be an academic."