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By Sally Foster | November 6, 2007

In the late 1960’s, Texan farm boy Gary Bradley moved to Austin, Texas in pursuit of the American Dream: a nice house with a white picket fence and lots of money. Over the next decade, Bradley transformed himself in to one of the county’s most successful real estate developers, and by the 1980’s he was spearheading the 4000-acre Circle C Ranch, the largest development Texas had ever seen. However, when the development plans for Circle C Ranch threatened to pollute the natural sanctuary of Barton Springs and the aquifer which feeds it, local environmentalists fought back, pushing for a law to preserve the Springs. In response, local Republicans countered in defense of private property rights and the ever-sought-after American Dream.

In her four-years-in-the-making documentary “The Unforeseen,” filmmaker Laura Dunn combines interviews with archival footage and animated graphics in order to chronicle the struggle between preserving our environment and protecting the rights of individuals to pursue their dreams. Although Dunn focuses on the particular situation as it has unfolded in Austin, the film is universal, working as a microcosmic model of similar struggles taking place all over the country. Featuring interviews with Robert Redford, Texan lobbyist Dick Brown, and one of the last interviews with Texas Governor Ann Richards, “The Unforeseen” urges viewers to consider the ramifications of allowing unchecked pursuit of the American Dream to eclipse the preservation of our world’s natural resources.

The documentary starts off a little slowly due to the overwhelming amount of technical real estate development information. By the end of the film, however, Dunn does an incredible job of condensing this extremely complex battle into a story that is simple and understandable, as well as extremely compelling. To that end, Dunn’s use of expository graphics and rhetorical devices really help to convey the seriousness of the situation; at one point, for example, Dunn interviews a cancer researcher on the differences between normal cell growth and the danger of unchecked growth caused by cancer. The underlying message is that unchecked real estate development may be equally dangerous, and equally fatal.

Dunn’s “The Unforeseen” is inspiring in its examination of the power of the individual to fight for environmental preservation. In the same breath, however, the film is utterly frightening in its depiction of the dire fate of our natural resources. Ultimately, “The Unforeseen” urges viewers to choose between the importance of protecting the individual American’s “right to pollute” and the need to secure a safe and livable environment for our future – and then to do something about it.

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