(No longer in theaters)
Laura Dunn's The Unforeseen is a poetic and high-minded meditation on American developers’ manifest destiny and the cancer it introduces into the natural world. It’s set in Austin, where there are latte-drinking liberals, and in the nineties they actually kept a 4,500-acre development from going in a few miles above their beloved Barton Springs watering hole. They have Robert Redford, who grew up partly in Austin, speaking on their behalf! (Redford is a co-producer with Terrence Malick—a cinema poet of virgin springs.) But when George W. Bush defeats Ann Richards as the governor of Texas, the City Council loses its power to keep the short-term profiteers from altering the landscape for all time.
The Unforeseen has three novel elements. Poet Wendell Berry intones his lamentations as the camera travels up and down the new superhighways and picks its way among the burgeoning suburban sprawl. Dunn devotes part of the film to a sympathetic portrait of Gary Bradley, a developer with too big dreams of seizing the future, tearing up the land, and making piles of money. Bradley is variously described as a visionary and a con man—and he’s both, as well as an American archetype. Finally, there is that cancer metaphor—or model, really. Development is presented as something that literally (not figuratively, not poetically) metastasizes and attacks the life-support system of the landscape. Those of us raised with the Hopi and Philip Glass–infused Koyaanisqatsi will be pleased to see it wasn’t all just New Age mumbo jumbo. It was grounded.
This film tells a familiar story that has such a rich sense of place that it rips you up in ways that other, less-rooted documentaries don’t. I cannot recommend it too highly, and while you’re waiting for it to begin, read Timothy Egan’s stunningly vivid The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl for a too little-known account of how tearing up the soil for short-term profit produced the worst natural catastrophe in this country’s history. (May it always be the worst.) Read my friend Bill McKibben’s eloquent Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, which makes a survivalist’s case against growth. Then go home and read your children Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax:
Plant a new Truffala. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
And all of his friends
May come back.