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Rich History, Wayward Editorial

Reston documentary deserves high marks for history storytelling despite editorial lapses.

If thought about for any amount of time, the documentary title of “Reston: Past, Present and Future,” Steve Resz’s detailed tour through Reston’s history, is confusing.

What’s the “future” doing in a documentary? More importantly, how does a filmmaker document the future?

The answer is that it can’t be done.

So, even though the Reston resident and first-time filmmaker traces an amazingly rich, three-hour tale of Reston’s beginnings, the last 30 minutes falls off the documentary trail into an opinionated personal harangue. (See “Courting Controversy”).

THE FILM OPENS to a beautiful winter morning scene of snow-covered Lake Anne with a sad folk song playing in the background. The view smoothly fades out to reopen inside the Reston museum before settling on the pair responsible for the music, singer Lea Coryell of Herndon and longtime Reston resident Ralph Lee Smith on the dulcimer.

A moment later, the film jumps awkwardly into its story. In a few sentences, Resz’s narration covers the American Indians to early Spanish and then English colonies.

The film’s pace is quick, but filled with jaw-dropping historical morsels. For instance, a young George Washington helped survey and hunt a large swath of land that encompassed Reston.

Resz uncovers a rail timetable from 1860, showing a route starting at Alexandria going west through Thornton (now Reston), Herndon, Guilford (now Sterling) and Farmwell (now Ashburn).

During the Civil War, viewers learn General Robert E. Lee marched his troops north on Ridge Road, parts of which are now Old Reston Avenue and Reston Parkway, for the battle of Antietam.

AFTER SEVERAL chapters, which include two failed attempts to start a town where Reston is today, including Max Wiehle’s town charter of 1898, Resz reaches the early 20th Century where he pauses for an almost mini-documentary on the life of Reston’s founder, Robert E. Simon.

From there, nearly an hour into the film, Resz segues into Reston’s early years during the late 1960s.

For the next hour and a half Resz traces Simon’s firing, Reston’s ownership by oil companies, first Gulf, then Mobil, the formation of the Reston Citizens Association, and early versions of Reston Association, the governing homeowners association.

WHILE THE MOVIE is mostly a story of how Reston came to be and how it evolved, “Reston” chronicles problems and hardships that nearly drowned Simon’s vision, mostly the result of not having “a locally elected town government” and being reined in by the vagaries of Fairfax County, according to Resz.

To end the movie, in what feels like a fireside chat, Resz spirals into an editorializing diatribe of Metro rail coming to Reston and a thematic lamentation that Reston never achieved town status.

This final turn, all within Resz’s right as sole producer and director of the film, detracts from, and for some may sink, what is the seminal video history of a place called Reston.