The Unforeseen

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archie
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The Unforeseen

Postby archie » Fri Apr 04, 2008 1:09 pm

A beautifully constructed documentary. It moved me with equal parts of outrage, hope and despair. A deep examination of how growth and development has threatened the limited natural resources of Austin, Texas. More of a challenge than a prescription. Though clearly against unregulated growth, director Laura Dunn uses historic footage and the words of those involved in the Austin land-use wars to make her arguments (along with some skillful camera work). William Greider’s comments are offered as a “voice of reason,â€Â

Das Binky
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Postby Das Binky » Fri Apr 04, 2008 1:40 pm

I don't think I liked it as much as you did... here's the review I sent out to some friends:

Documentaries about the evils of corporate America can be really hit or miss, and this one manages to be both. "The Unforeseen" looks at property development, land use rights and the environmental impact of both in Austin, TX from the 1970s through today, focusing on several key development projects, individuals and bills.

The primary footage is great stuff... compelling views of protests, town council meetings, newscasts from the time, etc. Those are interspersed with interviews with locals, key figures, informed commentators and Robert Redford. The overall effect is to give a pointed example view of the intersection of growth and environmentalism in a semi-unspoiled land. Plus, we get to blame it on George Bush.

Unfortunately, the movie felt like a lot of setup without a lot of delivery. At the end, I felt like it was missing ten minutes of footage to close out the argument, and I'm not someone who usually likes having everything tied up neatly in a bow.

In a sense, a good documentary lets you make your own decision... it documents something and lets the user make of it what they may. Here, there were a lot on interesting inputs, but not enough focus. Most interesting to me were discussions on the nature of growth within America (and the world)... can we grow without taking over the environment? How do we grow sustainably? Where does our environment fit into our future? Are Texans borderline insane?

The press for the movie called it "One of the great documentaries of our time" and "the kind of transformative viewing experience that has made the current period a golden age for nonfiction film." I didn't think it was either, though it was an interesting way to spend 90 minutes. Normally I don't jump at the chance to see a documentary on the evils of real estate development, but this held my interest.

Certainly a good companion piece to something like An Inconvenient Truth, and it dovetails nicely with the book I'm finishing up "Confessions of an Economic Hitman." Given that Redford produces and is heavily featured in the movie, Madison-ites will probably have a chance to catch this at Sundance 608 in a few months. (Just checked, it's opening May 30.) If you're a big documentary fan, it's worth catching. Otherwise, it's still worth TiVoing when it comes on Sundance Channel in fall.

archie
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The Unforeseen

Postby archie » Fri Apr 04, 2008 2:42 pm

Okay. You say setup without delivery, I say challenge rather than prescription.

But, we get to blame it on Bush? Generally a safe bet, but not so accurate in this case. His appearance, like Rove’s, was little more than an appropriate opportunity to hiss. Jr. just showed up in time to rubberstamp the Texas inclination toward bad government and near sighted policy. The model-building lobbyist is the main villain, with the state legislators playing his henchmen. (You have to wonder if the guy was aware of the camera during that interview).

And why is evenhandedness the defining characteristic of good documentary? Dunn follows the narrative the way it developed. She sides very openly and obviously with the underdogs. She uses the tools of cinema (skillfully, I think) to make her points. The movie left some really haunting images in my head, and that’s characteristic of good movie making, documentary or otherwise.

Yes, not having things tied up neatly at the end was less than satisfying. Kind of like life. Kind of like the current reality of areas like Austin (or Madison, for that matter) that are straining under the pressure of development. They may be screwed beyond hope, or not. Let’s hope the story isn’t over yet.

Das Binky
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Re: The Unforeseen

Postby Das Binky » Fri Apr 04, 2008 3:19 pm

archie wrote:Okay. You say setup without delivery, I say challenge rather than prescription.

I can see your point there. I suspect that since the movie didn't sing to me as much, I leaned towards the description that gave less benefit of the doubt.

archie wrote:But, we get to blame it on Bush? Generally a safe bet, but not so accurate in this case.

100% agree with you there, that was meant more as a flippant aside. :)

archie wrote:The model-building lobbyist is the main villain, with the state legislators playing his henchmen. (You have to wonder if the guy was aware of the camera during that interview).

That awareness is something I always wonder about in these kind of things. The model making was a really neat setup.

archie wrote:And why is evenhandedness the defining characteristic of good documentary? Dunn follows the narrative the way it developed. She sides very openly and obviously with the underdogs. She uses the tools of cinema (skillfully, I think) to make her points.

That may be more of a preference thing. I wouldn't call it the defining characteristic of good documentary, but the "bad guys" here came off a little too cartoonish for my tastes.

archie wrote:The movie left some really haunting images in my head, and that’s characteristic of good movie making, documentary or otherwise.

Agreed, and there was some excellent imagery in there. Certainly wasn't a travelogue for modern day Austin!

Bottom line with any movie, whether you enjoy it or not colors what parts you either praise or pick on. With "The Unforeseen", I thought it was just "OK", but went in with higher expectations. All of your points are good ones.

As an aside, the crowd reaction when the mayor (I think?) was talking about how the building up of skyscrapers around the Capital made it look like a little fireplug was a hoot. :)


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