Saw The Unforeseen over the weekend. Despite its flaws, this movie should be mandatory viewing for Austinites.
Austin inspires a strong affection in its citizens, whose pride in the city can sometimes grate on residents of other Texas cities (then again, they’re probably just envious). That, coupled with the long, rapid growth that this city has seen, has led to the widespread nostalgia for how much better the city used to be that is the badge of its citizens and a ready topic of conversation.
The attachment Austinites have for their city, and awareness of its rapid growth, projects forward in time as well as backward. Austinites seem unusually concerned with the shape their city will take. Development is the central political issue in the city. Especially as it affects the environment, and most especially as it affects Barton Springs.
The movie The Unforeseen takes Barton Springs as the nexus for all these issues and dives in.
The movie rolls back the clock to roughly 1970, when Gary Bradley, the developer of Circle C and Barton Creek, came to town. The filmmakers spent a lot of time interviewing Bradley, and it was interesting how they humanized one of the leading demons of Austin progressives. Bradley made the interesting observation that when planning out a development, the only problem he couldn’t fix was access to water. The filmmakers also showed how, right from the beginning, there was strong opposition to these developments—how there was already proto-nostalgia forming.
It also goes into the hydrology of the area—this was one of the most important parts of the movie, and one that really deserved to be expanded. Simply getting to see the interior of the Edwards Aquifer was worth the price of admission—the aquifer was always an abstraction to me. Now it’s a place. Key fact: city hydrologists tested the speed that water flows through the aquifer to the Springs. From 20 miles upstream, it took three days for water to exit at the Springs. Not enough time for significant filtration to occur. The pollution entering the aquifer comes right back out. Underwater footage taken at the Springs in 1994 and 2004 illustrates this fact: water that was once clear is now cloudy.
The movie closes on Hutto, a town to Austin’s northeast that I last saw back in college Back then, it was a small farming community. Today, lots for 11,000 houses have been platted there, and the mayor readily admits that he doesn’t know where they’re going to get the water. Aerial footage of cookie-cutter housing developments butting up against the few remaining farms was enough to get me choked up.
The main flaw in the movie is its ham-fisted sentimentality and preachiness. The facts and the record speak powerfully enough. Cutting away to stock footage of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and children frolicking is just whacking the audience upside the head.
A minor flaw is the title. The movie makes very clear that none of this was unforeseen.