NEW YORK -- An unusually poetic and meditative eco-themed documentary, Laura Dunn's "The Unforeseen" is as beautiful as it is ultimately depressing.
The influence of executive producer Terrence Malick is apparent in this gorgeously shot examination of a disastrous example of the way that urban development wreaks havoc on the environment. A recent prize winner at Film Independent's Spirit Awards, the film is playing an exclusive engagement at New York's Cinema Village before its national rollout.
The events depicted in the docu span several decades and center on a beloved swimming hole in Austin, Texas. For decades a pristine example of natural beauty amid an urban setting, Barton Springs was irreversibly damaged by a housing development that started in the 1970s and which became a cornerstone of the conflict between community activists and the forces of big business. Opposed in its beginning stages by then-Gov. Ann Richards, the development was allowed free reign after George W. Bush became governor.
Much of the docu's human drama stems from one of the central figures in the story, an ambitious developer named Gary Bradley who assumed control of about 4,000 acres along the waterfront. Interviewed on camera, a tearful Bradley expresses great regret, not for any environmental damage the development caused but because of his eventual bankruptcy caused by factors like the savings and loan crisis.
At times the docu is a bit too leisurely and meandering for its own good, with the filmmaker indulging in slightly too many (admittedly stunning) nature shots. There also is an unnecessary celebrity quotient in the form of interviews with Austin native Willie Nelson and Robert Redford (who also serves as executive producer), the latter recalling his idyllic youthful days spent swimming at Barton Creek and decrying what has become of it.