Almost from the beginning of Laura Dunn’s The Unforeseen (2007), an eco-documentary on the impact of land development in Austin, Texas, the influence of executive producer Terence Malick (who came up with the project) is evident. In other words, this isn’t your everyday documentary. It’s filled with natural images: sunlight through trees, water flowing, dew on grass etc. The same effect is even applied to much of its interview footage. Very often, these aren’t your average talking head shots, but carefully composed, artistically lit scenes that present the speakers in a place that says something about them. All this is very much in the film’s favor, but it comes with another aspect of Malick that may be bothersome to viewers who can’t tap into his sense of pacing. Put simply, like a Malick film, Dunn’s documentary isn’t in a hurry. That’s not a criticism, merely a fact.
Content-wise, The Unforeseen, focuses on the environmental impact of land developer Gary Bradley’s (think a younger, less obviously unctuous John Huston in Chinatown) Circle C subdivision—which is of particular relevance on a local level. There are undeniable similarities between Austin and Asheville, ranging from the two cities’ similar positions as pockets of liberalism in an otherwise conservative area, to their scenic beauty, to the allure of that beauty, to men like Bradley, who see it all as just so many undeveloped lots. Bradley himself says as much during the film: “Austin looked perfect to me—as a place to develop.” It’s ultimately a film about the big question of whether ownership of a piece of land means that one has the right to do whatever one wants with that land—regardless of the consequences. Very thought-provoking and worth seeing.