"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


"the deserted prospect of the modern mind"

Yesterday the Yale Club hosted a screening of Laura Dunn's ('97, 'cause you know everyone who ever did anything important in the history of the world went to Yale) excellent documentary The Unforseen. I'd wanted to see this film about Barton Springs and real estate development since missing it at last year's SXSW, and yesterday's screening did not disappoint.

Visually, the film is beautiful. You can tell Terrence Malik was one of the producers by the long, surrealist, underwater images of the springs and the woods and blueprints for new developments in the Austin area. The story is equally compelling, and Dunn does an excellent job of laying out the tensions inherent in the principle on which our society is largely predicated: the need for contstant growth to drive the machine of capitalism. The problem, of course, is that continuous growth of the economy, the real estate market, and the development of every last inch of available property means that our natural spaces - the things that connect us to our communities and make us human - get destroyed in the process.

Barton Springs, a naturally fed swimming pool in the heart of the city, is pretty sacred to Austinites. The Unforseen features lots of old footage of the City Council battles of the early 1990's, news reports, and extensive interviews with environmentalists, developers, politicians, farmers, ranchers, swimmers, and lobbyists. In the Q&A after the screening, one viewer raised her hand to note that a 10-year-old girl in the film (who was shown speaking to the City Council about what the next generation will have to pay for the mistakes of previous generations) is her daughter, now a PhD student in environmental science. It's personal to Austinites.

But The Unforseen goes beyond our city's feelings about our particular swimming hole, and delves deeply and beautifully into the questions of in just what kind of world we want to live. Bookended with audio recordings of Wendell Berry reading excerpts from his "Santa Clara Valley" (from which the film's title comes) and images of the sun rising and setting with a new skyscraper in the foreground, The Unforseen leaves you haunted and sad, wondering why we destroy the places we love, and what anyone can do to stop it.

The Unforseen screens through Thursday at the Alamo South Lamar. It's also showing tonight at the Round Rock Public Library. Information about other upcoming screenings is here.


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