February 28, 2008

The Unforeseen.

The Unforeseen "The sanctity of private property versus the long-term health of the land - in Austin, the site of [Laura] Dunn's extraordinary new documentary, the battle has taken on the trappings of holy war," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "An Alamo of blue-state liberalism besieged by the reddest of red-state doctrinaires, the Texas capital is literally an oasis: a river-fed island of green atop a precious fresh-water aquifer, surrounded by arid scrub. As the setting for a showdown between tree-huggers and flag-wavers - which happened when a sprawling 1990s development deal threatened the city's beloved Barton Springs - it's as metaphorically rich as the Wendell Berry poem that gives The Unforeseen its title."

Updated through 3/1.

"The film is more sobered than alarming, yet it's hardly defeatist," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "An impressionist's portrait of contemporary American economic life, The Unforeseen is for nature both a paean and an elegy, and for contemporary American nonfiction a challenge, in both scope and aesthetic."

"It's a compelling story, but one which slips away from Dunn as she becomes obsessed with hammering the point home," writes Raphaela Weissman in the New York Press. "What is subtly illustrated in the beginning by animated projections of developments snaking their way across maps of Austin is heavy-handedly force-fed to us at the end by an interview with a doctor who explains how cancer spreads throughout the body. Get it, slow audience? It's a metaphor."

"One comes away from this film not in opposition to development per se but against extremism: the extremism that says private property is everything and the public be deuced," writes Harvey Karten for the Arizona Reporter.

PBS has interviews and clips.

Earlier: Craig Phillips.

Updates: "With the nation and the world weathering the current storm of economic turbulence and the possibility of a full-blown recession - due at least in part to the ticking time-bomb that was America's Wild West of a subprime mortgage market - many will view Laura Dunn's mesmeric documentary The Unforeseen with a mixture of fascinated dread and I-Told-You-So self-righteousness," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "By the time The Unforeseen is done, it's proven to be nothing less than an eye-opening lesson in much of what's wrong about how we live today."

Steve Erickson talks with Dunn for Film & Video.

Updates, 2/29: "It's a terrible scenario, a familiar one too: big business versus little people, nature versus culture, civilization and its discontents. Working with the cinematographer Lee Daniel (who shot many of the Austinite Richard Linklater's films), Ms Dunn does an estimable job of marshaling a wealth of facts and figures through a seamless profusion of charts, talking heads, news reports, old photographs and beauty shots, including numerous aerial images," writes Manohla Dargis, who also notes in the New York Times that "Dunn has a penchant for poetic drift - images of sun-dappled flora and folk, gurgling water and children — that tends to fuzz up her story and point.... With the polar ice caps melting, I want more than poetry and blame. I want a plan."

"The Unforeseen resonates with a liberal Christian perspective, marked by the value of forgiveness," writes Steve Erickson, this time in Gay City News. "That quality is one of the most remarkable things about the film. Dunn's documentary is also striking in its commitment to honoring the beauty of the nature whose fragility it depicts."

"[T]he film employs decidedly dreamlike tones and lush, organic textures even as it dishes out the facts and stats, bearing far more in common with the likes of The Thin Red Line and The New World than the entertaining but emotionally rigid An Inconvenient Truth," writes Rob Humanick in Slant.

"Ultimately, The Unforeseen concludes that growth is a vexing concept - one that sounds positive but causes systemic strife," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "At one point, Ms. Dunn probes the very metaphor of growth with some nature photography that shows the word's other manifestations. Though a bit trite, it's intended as a moment of wondrous contemplation, a mode familiar to Terrence Malick, who in fact originally recruited Ms Dunn to undertake the documentary."

"Author William Greider, who explains how banking deregulation precipitated the savings-and-loan crisis, points out that growth isn't necessarily negative, an observation Dunn illustrates with a shot of a butterfly crawling from its cocoon," notes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "But shortly thereafter, she's filling the screen with pictures of cancer cells."

For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, The Unforeseen is "one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in recent American nonfiction filmmaking. It hits hard as to facts, and opens its eyes to inexpressible mysteries. It strikes a clear moral and philosophical stance, and then - as part of that philosophical stance, actually - reveals its villain as a tragic and sympathetic figure."

Updates, 3/1: "The Unforeseen neatly encapsulates the problems of the contemporary political non-fiction film: its importance as social document is everywhere countered by its poverty as cinema." Andrew Schenker at the House Next Door.

Rob Humanick, this "the first great film of 2008."

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Posted by dwhudson at February 28, 2008 3:05 AM