A documentary about the development around Barton Springs in Austin, Texas, and the environment's unexpected response to human interference.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Curtis Peterson ...
Himself
...
Himself
...
Himself
Ann Richards ...
Herself
Roy Butler ...
Himself
William Greider ...
Himself
...
Himself (archive footage)
Bill Bunch ...
Himself
Jim Bob Moffett ...
Himself (archive footage)
Cedar Stevens ...
Herself
Nico Hauwert ...
Himself
Chock Woodruff ...
Himself
Neil Tuttrup ...
Himself
Frank Cooksey ...
Himself (archive footage)
Dick Brown ...
Himself
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Storyline

A documentary about the development around Barton Springs in Austin, Texas, and the environment's unexpected response to human interference.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

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Documentary

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January 2007 (USA)  »

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To aprovlepto  »

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Terrence Malick, a long time resident of Austin, originally conceived the idea for the film. See more »

Goofs

A latter animation showing water lines becoming blood vessels has a noticeable shift. It appears a duplicate frame has been accidentally inserted. See more »

Quotes

Gary Bradley: Nature in your life, very quickly becomes God. A God who gives great abundance at times... and takes everything away at times.
[on growing up on a farm]
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Crazy Credits

The closing title sequence, designed by Kyle Cooper/Prologue, begins on a massive abstract-art depiction of overdeveloped land and zooms all the way down to the surface to rest upon a single tree. Cooper requested his credit be "Closing title/Cosmic Zoom Sequence" which is what appears in the credit crawl. See more »

Connections

Features Frontline: The Great American Bailout (1991) See more »

Soundtracks

Good Hearted Woman
Written by Waylon Jennings (as W. Jennings) and Willie Nelson (as W. Nelson)
Performed by Willie Nelson
Courtesy of Araduillo Country Music Review
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User Reviews

 
"Keep Austin Weird" -- The Story Behind the Slogan
5 April 2008 | by (Austin, Texas) – See all my reviews

During the early 1990's--my college years--Austin and the rest of Texas were not all that far apart politically. Both were generally moderate and bipartisan. Texas had a governor from the liberal wing of the Democratic party (Ann Richards), and Austin had a moderately conservative mayor (Lee Cooke) and city council. But in 1992, things began to change when developer Gary Bradley with the backing of Freeport-McMoran announced plans to build subdivisions over the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds Barton Springs in South Austin and is the source of most of the potable water for Austin, San Antonio, and their suburbs and exurbs. The citizens of Austin rose up and passed the Save Our Springs (S.O.S.) ordinance, which would have curbed the development of these subdivisions, which caused great controversy statewide. "The Unforeseen" is a documentary showing what led up to the controversy and its aftermath.

"The Unforeseen" begins and ends with Gary Bradley, the developer at the heart of the controversy. He grew up in West Texas, a land of droughts and tornadoes, where nature is seen not as a treasure to be protected, but as an enemy to be overcome. He mentions that he enrolled at the University of Texas in 1972, and the movie shows archival footage of Austin during that time, when it was still mostly a college town. Back then, Austin was known as a place where you could call yourself a left-wing hippie *AND* a redneck at the same time (of course Willie Nelson is briefly interviewed).

By 1980, Bradley was a successful developer with dreams of building a self-sufficient subdivision in Southwest Austin called Circle C Ranch. In 1990, he had just won approval from the city to start building, when the S&L collapse hit, sending the country into recession and putting the brakes on the funding for the project. Eventually, though, he was bailed out by Freeport-McMoran, but by this time, the citizens of Austin were in near-unison in their opposition to the project. Footage is shown of the contentious city council meeting where Freeport CEO (and non-Austinite) Jim Bob Moffett arrogantly declares "I know more about Barton Springs than anyone in this room!" In 1992, Austin overwhelmingly passed the S.O.S. initiative to limit development around Barton Creek and over the Edwards Aquifer. This led to incredible resentment among landowners in the outlying areas because it led to the devaluation of their properties. Eventually they hired a lobbyist (whose name I sadly can't remember from the film) to craft Senate Bill 1704, which said that development only has to follow the rules that were in place at the time it was approved, thus effectively nullifying the S.O.S. ordinance. The bill had strong support from pretty much everywhere in Texas outside the city limits of Austin, but Governor Ann Richards vetoed it anyway. In 1994, she was defeated by George W. Bush, who signed SB 1704 into law. It is not shown in the movie, but ever since, the Republicans in the Texas Legislature have never tired of trying to punish Austin for being unlike the rest of the State, and Austin adopted the unofficial motto "Keep Austin Weird" to show our refusal to be homogenized.

I thought the film was fairly good. Director Laura Dunn tries to see all sides of the issue. She makes sure that she gives full voice to the opponents of S.O.S. instead of just a straw-man argument. Gary Bradley is the main interviewee, and he comes off as sympathetic and humble (the fight over Circle C forced him into bankruptcy), but not apologetic. Occasionally, he flashes anger. In one spot, he shouts "What the hell do you know about being a Texan, Berkeley lawyer Bill Bunch?" (Bunch is the guy behind the S.O.S. ordinance, and although he may have gone to school in California, his accent betrays that he grew up here.) However, there is no doubt where her sympathies lie when she interviews the lobbyist behind SB 1704. His face is rarely shown. Instead it shows his hands building model warplanes while he goes on about how backwards Austin is by placing environmental issues ahead of property rights.

However, I do think that the movie is quite flawed. Most of the environmentalists interviewed are new-agers who talk about Barton Springs being somehow sacred (it's very special, but ultimately it's still just a swimming pool), or hippies who reject the American work ethic. And entirely too much screen time is given to Robert Redford, a washed-up semi-talented actor-director, who is not as profound as he thinks he is. And the bit at the end where unchecked growth is compared to cancer is a bit much.

Ultimately, the films greatest strengths are interviews with the late Gov. Richards and William Greider--who both make strong pro-environmental arguments based on fact rather than sentiment--and a portrait of a family recently arrived in Hutto (an Austin exurb): They are excited to be living in a growing community, yet they hope that it doesn't get crowded and bemoan the shortage of potable water. They are happy to be living in a small town far from the city, yet whine about the long distance to the nearest Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, these two great strengths are given short shrift. I think the film would have been better if it had been more fact-oriented and had talked more about our contradictory desires as humans to be connected to the conveniences of cities, but have the isolation of the countryside. Instead we have a paean to a South Austin swimming pool, and the community that thought it was important enough to protect from suburban sprawl and big money. 7 out of 10.


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