Friday, June 6, 2008

The Unforseen

Not a horror title, but like a horror film this ecological documentary shows an insidious battle over the environment that slowly strips resources until it's as if a cancer has made the landscape poison. To the filmmaker's credit The Unforseen takes in nearly 30 years of history and gives screen time to opposing sides in the battle over Barton Springs, a natural springs swimming pool and community gathering spot in Austin.
Especially topical are parts where Austin is touted as the opposite of the out-of-control real estate development hell of Houston (and Dallas). You'll reel as if in a timewarp while watching footage of a former Austin mayor talk about expanding the interstate highway that flows north to south in the capital town. They expect to have the renovations completed by 1990. Other speakers from previous era - shots of Willie Nelson singing from the 70s, interviews with then governor Ann Richards, the defeat of Richards in the 1992 Texas gubernatorial race - give the doc a rounded, well-researched sheen.
But The Unforeseen doesn't rest easy with a few clips to set the tone, as director Laura Dunn also constantly uses long takes to gaze at the environment. This includes a seemingly endless ariel shot that shows a highway under construction only to give way to partially paved progress and then tree studded hill country. The opening credits merge graphics with a slow pull back of the landscape that turns into a glorious Google Earth continent picture.
Footage includes underwater shots that illustrate the delicate nature of the underground reservoir, the Edwards Aquifer, that feeds the springs. A cross section of talking heads include author Wendell Berry, film's executive producer Robert Redford, real estate mogul Gary Bradley and lobbyist Dick Brown. Terence Malick is The Unforeseen's other executive producer.
It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't proposition. Without progress civilization doesn't flourish and it's unlikely Austin could ever exist in the present world without sacrificing some elements of its idyllic past. As The Unforeseen demonstrates, those changes didn't occur without a great deal of public debate or political chicanery. Despite the lofty goals of wonderful malls and nifty retail establishments this film is a vivid reminder of the very human desire to compete and conquer. Only in the end we conquer ourselves by depeting our resources.

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