I woke up this Earth Day in Austin, Texas, to a light rain washing the air clean of city pollution, at least temporarily, and giving the newly leafed-out trees and the wildflowers the morning blessing of water. Recently I saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on screen about water – the movie The Unforeseen. It’s about Barton Springs, a spring-fed swimming hole that wells up from the fragile limestone Edwards aquifer along Barton Creek right in the middle of downtown Austin and the battle between the environmental activists of Governor Ann Richards’ days in the early 90s and the destructive overdevelopment that followed under Governor George W Bush. It tells the story in poignant first person interviews of the developer who had it all and lost it in disgrace and bankruptcy, of the rancher still working his land in the midst of a jungle of new subdivisions knowing when he dies his land will be sold and subdivided and chopped up for even more houses.
The film opens and closes with lines from a poem by Wendell Berry, “The Unforeseen.” Using heartfelt, up close and personal interviews with Robert Redford, Willie Nelson, William Grieder of the Rolling Stone, the late Ann Richards among others – and the developer who talks about what motivated him to leave the precarious farming existence of his family in West Texas and come to the city to make his mark and the precipitous rise and fall that followed.
By the end of the film it is possible to feel the humanity in all the players. Well, with a couple of exceptions; a news clip of George W’s inaugeration as governor and a really creepy interview of a former lobbyist whose fingers are shown putting together model war planes as he describes his years beating out the environmentalists at the state capital. But this is the genius of the film. It shows the tragedy of human folly with compassion – which opens the door for healing. And it shows with exceptional photography the fragile beauty of the springs, how much we have lost, how quickly we could lose it all.
This is the Austin version of what is going on everywhere. It’s a beautiful film and deserves the many awards, including Sundance and The Independent Spirit Award, it has received. If you get a chance, I hope you will see it.
And happy Earth Day . . . thanks, mom . . . . .