Due to the onslaught of environmental documentaries that prioritize urgency over intelligence, Laura Dunn’s The Unforeseen, an inquisitive, elegant rendering of the battle between land development and dwindling natural resources in Austin, might get lost in the shuffle. And what a shame that would be, for Dunn’s refreshingly thorough look at the encroachment of capital on untouched land is smart enough not to treat its subject as a horror show. The film is more sobered than alarming, yet it’s hardly defeatist. 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.
Too legitimately discursive to be merely poetic and too visually restful and unexpected to fall in line with the usual talking-heads issue docs, The Unforeseen makes for invigorating viewing; it’s a provocative tapestry that, while occasionally reveling in abstract digression, never loses sight of the complicated human, political, and historical issues at its core. Though there’s a clear narrative trajectory–that of the initial success and eventual ignominious bankruptcy of reviled local land developer Gary Bradley, responsible for Austin’s most profitable subdivision–Dunn takes an unconventional approach, complicating her own process by cross-hatching various threads with ease, and using facts rather than polemics to buoy her storytelling.