A Thriller of a Documentary: 'The Unforseen'

A new documentary tracks a 30-year battle over land use in Austin, Texas. The Unforseen focuses on a real-estate development project threatening a spring-fed swimming area. Robert Redford and Terrence Malick are the film's executive producers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now, for a movie review. "The Unforseen" is a little documentary with some powerful friends. Robert Redford and Terrence Malick as executive producers. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this look at it.

KENNETH TURAN: "The Unforseen" unfolds like a tragic whodunit, with the earth itself being the victim of a crime. This documentary skirts the danger of being a tree hugger movie. Instead it honors the intricacies of a complex subject: a 30-year war between developers and environmentalists around Austin, Texas. It turns that into a microcosm for land-use issues everywhere.

We hear first from a soft-spoken man who talks of the harshness that made him abandon rural life.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Unforseen")

Mr. GARY BRADLEY (Real Estate Developer): Nature very quickly in your life as a child becomes god. A god that gives in great abundance at times and takes everything away at times.

TURAN: That man is known as the most controversial real estate developer in central Texas: Gary Bradley.

"The Unforseen" shows what happens when one of his projects threatens Barton Springs, a beloved spring-fed swimming area. That led first to an Austin environmental movement that helped stop growth, and then to a property rights backlash that helped put George Bush into the governor's mansion and eventually the White House.

What then and now footage starkly reveals is that everyone's worst fears about development near Barton Springs came to pass.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Unforseen")

Mr. BRADLEY: So instead of having a healthy stream you now have a drainage ditch. It's either bone dry and largely dead or it's a raging, you know, flood channel. And so instead of having this healthy stream, you know, you have these boom-and-bust cycles that are really destroy the stream ecology.

TURAN: "The Unforseen's" refusal to demonize Bradley is one of its strengths. Yet no one who sees this intriguing documentary will want to argue with a reporter who insists near the end, we need a more mature regard for the future. We do indeed.

MONTAGNE: The documentary is "The Unforseen." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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