continued The poet Sam Witt, who befriended Scott during Scott's grad-school days in Wisconsin, elaborates. Though Scott's chosen field of study was English literature, "he was studying Prop 13, which froze the real estate tax in California, and the effect it had on home ownership. That was the basis of everything -- he had this interest in really fundamental things like the housing market." When Shawn Nelson stole a tank and rode it to his death through Clairemont in 1995, Scott heard the story and understood that "even in that insanity, there was context, there were patterns, and there was meaning. It wasn't just that Nelson was on speed -- there were all kinds of historical, economic, and cultural circumstances that were brought to bear, that created this pressure on people's lives.
"Due to cuts in the military," continues Witt, "Clairemont had become a white ghetto. By talking to Nelson's friends, his former girlfriend, his brother, the cop who killed him, Garrett figured out that what these people were actually losing was a sense of generational stability. They had lost their careers. Many of Nelson's friends were either recovering drug addicts or active drug addicts. Garrett knew intuitively that he could use the tank ride to glue this stuff together because it was flashy, it was dramatic, it was intense." It made for a record people might notice. "Garrett used to say, 'A society is only as good as the records it keeps -- and we're not keeping any records.' "
The resultant documentary, says Nation writer Christian Parenti, "is really subtle. I taught college in San Francisco while I was working on my Ph.D., and I taught Garrett's film. He takes the idea of this guy stealing a tank and uses that to burrow into a whole set of questions that, at first glance, seem too academic to attract anyone's interest. Questions like the role of military production in the production of the landscape of California...the rise and decline of communities in Southern California. And he does it all so seamlessly. History was brought to bear, but not in a didactic mode -- just sort of suggested, thrown into the mix."
Parenti met Scott while "organizing an event at which Mike Davis was speaking. Garrett showed up, and he had the trailer for this movie. I was working on my first book [The Freedom, an account based on Parenti's reporting from Iraq]. We became friends, and we ended up going to Iraq together. I wasn't part of the production on Occupation: Dreamland, but I was with them."
"Them," of course, refers to Scott and his codirector, Ian Olds. Olds met Scott in San Francisco when Scott was "sort of stalled out on his project. My roommate at the time grew up in San Diego and knew Garrett." Olds and his roommate were working as film editors. "Garrett brought over this transcript of the material that he'd shot for Cul De Sac, sort of organized like a script, but not really. He had no film training whatsoever. My roommate wasn't available to help, but I read the thing and was sort of moved by what it was. But it wasn't yet a film, and I said, 'Hey, I'd like to work on this with you,' and he said okay. We figured it out as we went. The friendship came out of that, and then we came together to do Occupation: Dreamland."
Olds joined in the praises for Scott's intellect; in particular, his genuine curiosity about others. It was the quality that allowed Scott to win the trust of his subjects, he said. "People knew he wasn't asking them questions to win their confidence in order to make them say something useful. He was actually interested in who they were. People felt the difference."
Like Scott's friends Jason and Robbie, Olds mourns the loss of what was yet to be done. "We had a whole body of work that we were thinking of making, one that had some continuous ideas, a way of thinking about the world. After the invasion of Iraq, it seemed like a different world," one that would involve "new kinds of wars, new kinds of motivations, and new consequences." The two had planned an Afghanistan project, which, like the others, would reflect Scott's interest in "power and history and individuals who are caught up in it and are unaware of these structures. In the Afghanistan project, we were looking at the shape of power at the edge of an empire -- the U.S. exerting power abroad and the ramifications it has in that environment. There are NGO workers who have become mercenaries. There was a guy claiming to be with Special Forces who was actually a private guy running his own private jail. There's this kind of breakdown. The idea was to do three or four character studies" that would paint a portrait of the region and the forces shaping it.
Scott's interests and San Diego heritage put the writer David Reid in mind of Edmund Wilson's "Jumping-Off Place," a story Wilson wrote for the New Republic during the Depression. "At the time, San Diego had the highest suicide rate in the country. Wilson ends with maybe the best paragraph he ever wrote. He says something like, 'Here, under the empty California sun, those people so long told to go west to prosper and be healthy come to the end of their resources. They go out into the municipal golf course and stab themselves to death. They drive into their garages and turn on the gas. They take rat poison. They jump into the bay and drown within sight of the great battleships that set out so long ago to conquer the Hawaiian Islands.' Garrett would have loved the piece -- it's got imperialism and personal psychosis."
"I do think that growing up in Coronado was not neutral," adds Jayne Walker. "That whole military culture was something that he eventually had to address. But the thing that totally amazes me is his great affection for the troops in Occupation: Dreamland. It's not really an antiwar film -- although, the way it comes out, it is -- but that's not what he set out to do. He wanted to show these guys who got caught up in an intolerable situation. The portraits are so rich and so complex. [I'm] old enough to remember the way the troops were thought about in Vietnam. He didn't want to do anything that went anywhere near that. They come across as such sweet boys."