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Thursday, April 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 39.0° F  A Few Clouds
Movies

WISCONSIN FILM FESTIVAL

The Unforeseen at the 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival
Documentary about sprawl in Austin screened Thursday at Monona Terrace

<i>The Unforseen</i>
The Unforseen
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The Unforeseen, a documentary about a land use battle in Austin, Texas, that started in the 1980s, was a good pick for a Madison audience -- many aspects hit home. Not just the comparison between Austin and Madison, similarly sized burgs that are both capital cities with state universities and experiencing troubling growth.

The savings-and-loan crisis of the 80s finds a parallel with today's subprime mortgage crisis, too. Yet the subdivisions continue to be built, with little foresight and only hindsight to the environmental havoc that rampant development brings.

The story here concerns a subdivision called Circle K Ranch threatening the local Austin aquifer and a lovely swimming hole called Barton Springs. The people of Austin rose up against the project; its city council passed rules prohibiting such development in 1992. But ultimately the Texas legislature overrode the law (they can do that), with none other than Governor George W. Bush - yeah, that guy -- signing the measure.

The cinematography, by Lee Daniel, was strong -- interesting views of the Texas landscape. But the pacing of the tale, which could have been exciting, lacked narrative tension. And some aspects of the story remained confusing. The plodding, methodical journey the film took to its conclusion may have had something to do with the influence of executive producer (and Austin resident) Terrence Malick. (Robert Redford co-executive produced.)

Malick is one of those you-love-him-or-you-hate-him film figures, and I find his work to be excruciating, which could explain my frustration with the unhurried pacing of The Unforeseen. Important topic, but I found the film's lack of urgency at odds with it.

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