Culture War Crossfire 

Not everything is gloom and doom at the Human Rights Watch Film Fest.

Though many of the films featured at this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival focus on calamities of war and suppressive military regimes, the three-week showcase opens on a more lighthearted note, with two flicks that pit Middle-American values against modern conservationist ones. Laura Dunn's The Unforeseen, which screens Saturday, Feb. 2, tells the story of a West Texas developer named Gary Bradley who parceled his 4,000-acre ranch during a boom era in the 1970s. In so doing, Bradley created a prosperous real estate subdivision but endangered the cherished local swimming hole Barton Springs, inadvertently setting a grassroots environmental movement into motion. This provincial but symbolically fraught small-town drama piqued Dunn's interest partly because it occurred in her old stomping ground of Austin, and partly because it spurred three decades of battle between environmentalists and developers. To Dunn, the story represents a crisis of values that actually predated Bradley: the "American" tradition of grit, enterprise, and speculative interests, versus progressive notions of "sustainability."

The Unforeseen will screen alongside festival opener Everything's Cool, a humorous documentary that stars local environmentalists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. The two men immerse themselves in the rigmarole of the global warming debate by interviewing people on both sides: those who say it's a problem, and those who say it's a lot of hogwash. Complete with animated pie charts, Michael Moore-style montages, and snappy sound bites from charmingly ignorant commentators, the film revisits some of the arguments from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and presents them in a hipper, more stylized format.

Now in its sixth year, the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival comprises an intriguing selection of films, which range from the silly escapades of Berkeley environmentalists elucidating a hot environmental topic du jour, to more disturbing investigations of Israeli prisons and rape in the Congo. It caps off on Sunday, Feb. 24 with Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem's documentary Enemies of Happiness, about the Afghan feminist activist Malalai Joya. Screenings take place at the Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Wy., Berkeley) and cost $5.50-$9.50.


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