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Jul 28, 2017 at 8:30 pm

Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story

Organized with Steve Macfarlane. Conversation to follow the screening with Editor Ian Olds, Ted Hamm & Paul Felten

In May 1995, Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Claremont, 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. This is the core story underlying Garrett Scott’s Cul De Sac, but he goes far beyond this seemingly minor sensational news story and provides extensive political, economic and social context that connects 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.

“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

“[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

Join us for a screening of CUL DE SAC and a discussion afterwards with organizer Steve Macfarlane, editor and co-writer, Ian Olds, filmmaker Paul Felten, and writer Ted Hamm.

Thank you to Icarus for the film and providing support!


Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story

57 min., 2002

57 min

The Netherlands, Rotterdam, 02 February 2012. The International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012. Portrait Ian Olds, co-director US feature film Francophrenia (or: Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is), in the Spectrum programme. Photo: 31pictures.nl / (c) 2012, www.31pictures.nl

Ian Olds is a director and editor of both documentary and narrative films. Directing credits include Burn Country (winner of the Best Actor Award at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and released theatrically by Samuel Goldwyn Films), the Iraq war doc Occupation: Dreamland (short-listed for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and winner of an Independent Spirit Award), and Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (winner of top jury prizes at Tribeca and Madrid, acquired by HBO Documentary Films and nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism). Olds was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013 and currently teaches directing at Columbia University.


Paul Felten is a screenwriter who was born and raised in Reno, Nevada. A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in film, Paul is the co-writer (with Ian Olds) of the films BOMB (Sundance Film Festival), FRANCOPHRENIA (OR, DON’T KILL ME I KNOW WHERE THE BABY IS) (Tribeca, Rotterdam film festivals), and BURN COUNTRY. A former director of the Olympia Film Festival, he is a Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow, a recipient of The San Francisco Film Society’s Hearst Screenwriting grant, and a regular contributor to The Brooklyn Rail.


Theodore Hamm is a co-founder of The Brooklyn Rail, which featured Garrett Scott’s work. Hamm’s most recent book is Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn, an edited volume of the great abolitionist’s speeches. His recent writings about Brooklyn politics have appeared in The Daily Beast and City Limits. He is chair of journalism and media studies at St. Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill.


Steve Macfarlane is a writer and filmmaker from Seattle, Washington. A programmer at Spectacle in Williamsburg, his writing has appeared in Cinema Scope, The White Review, Filmmaker Magazine and The Brooklyn Rail, among others.


Jul 28, 2017
8:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Free with membership - $10.00


BROOKLYN, NY 11211 United States
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Presented with

Steve Macfarlane

UnionDocs is grateful for support from:

Into My Life


Collaborative Studio film premiering at Tribeca and HotDocs! A rich, overlooked archive paying tribute to the work of a mother-daughter duo

World Records


We’ve launched our new peer-reviewed documentary journal World Records. Volume I, The Documentary Camera, is now online!