News / Film

Dan Emmerson’s short film Cold War looks at inner city ice cream van rivalries

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Dan Emmerson: Cold War

Few things are as uniquely British as the sound of an ice cream van jingle-jangling down a nondescript cul-de-sac on a grey August afternoon. Summoners of the kind of suburban saudade that gets us out of bed in the morning, the ice cream van offers so much, and usually delivers little more than a faceful of exhaust fumes and a rapidly-melting screwball.

They harbour, too, an element of danger. Everyone’s heard (no doubt apocryphal) stories of a shady phalanx Ford Transits stuffed to the gills with cigarettes and Class A drugs bombing around the nation’s sleepy small towns, enticing potential customers with tinkling renditions of Greensleeves and the promise of a cider Mivvi.

Though perhaps we’re overthinking the whole thing because we grew up on a main road and thus our trips to the ice cream man’s hatch were limited to the occasional post-beach 99 after a day on Cromer beach. Either way, we’re absolutely certain that London-based filmmaker Dan Emmerson’s latest dispatch for Somesuch is tastier than a Solero.

Cold War is a three minute short that takes a light-hearted look at the rivalries that form between inner city ice cream men and women. Dan — who tells us that his top five ice cream van selection consists of Mint Feast, Zap, Strawberry Split, Twister and the hard-to-find Maxibon — says the genesis of the project came when he was shooting a music video at a friend’s workshop in an industrial estate on the outskirts of London.

“We started chatting about the space next door to his, which happened to be an ice cream van depot. He told me that a rival gang of ice cream van owners had recently torched the whole fleet of vans as a warning to stay out of their territory. I was intrigued and did some investigating.”

From there, it was a case of doing some deep digging into the world of ice cream depots. Once inside, Dan discovered that that was, “a weird gang rivalry between ice cream van crews, warring over the prime spots to shift their Mr. Whippys.” His inside man told him that with the right patch, you’re printing money all summer long. When winter arrives, the humble burger van is the go-to vehicle for anyone looking to make a quick buck. “He told me some funny and some pretty gnarly stories over the phone and agreed to intro me to a few guys who were still doing rounds. He was my gateway into the world of ice cream vans,” Dan recalls.

“After lining up a few people to interview, I went back and shot them with my pals Ed Hubert (DOP) and Ollie Drummond (sound),” he tells us. “I wanted to capture the bleak reality behind the great British tradition. It wasn’t so much about hearing stories about attacks on other vans and gang violence, although I did hear a lot of that, I chose not to make that the focus as it would have become a very different film!”

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Dan Emmerson: Cold War

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Dan Emmerson: Cold War

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Dan Emmerson: Cold War

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Dan Emmerson: Cold War