SXSW Film Review – The World Before Your Feet
The World Before Your Feet
When I visited New York City, it was a definite culture shock. I was just a kid growing up in a small town in Washington State. To me, Seattle was considered a “big city.” Nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude that was “The Big Apple.” I recall when I got to my hotel room and hearing the hustle and bustle of the city from the window really put things into perspective. It made me realize 1) the world is far larger than I could have imagined, and 2) I was just a speck floating along in the wind. It was a moment that was thought provoking and overwhelming at the same time.
And so it was with curiosity that I came to director Jeremy Workman’s documentary, The World Before Your Feet (2018). In it, we are introduced to Matt Green, an ex-engineer whom, for reasons he cannot fully articulate, decided to walk every block of every street in all five boroughs of New York City (including parks and piers). Armed with only the clothes on his back, his phone, and a water bottle, Green took the self-inflicted challenge, estimating that the entire walk will equate to over eight thousand miles.
Of course, this idea automatically generates logistical questions. How does Green support himself financially? How does he deal with needing to eat and drink, or use the restroom? What if he finds himself in a dangerous area, by what means will he be able to defend himself? Green – who narrates – answers most of these questions simply. He is basically homeless, stays at various friends’ and relatives’ places, looking after their pets in return. He uses public restrooms, and uses only a few dollars a day for food. When it comes to being afraid he’ll walk into the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time, Green simply shrugs his shoulders, figuring his positive and optimistic personality will get him through any situation. Sometimes we see him pass by a few people who wonder why a camera crew is following him, but once Green explains what he is doing nearly every person he meets wishes him luck.
Much of what Jeremy Workman shoots is what we would expect: Green simply walking throughout New York. Most times we see Green from behind, usually wearing something to cover his head, and light clothing. During the winter months he’ll bundle up to protect himself from the snow. Along the way, Green keeps an online blog detailing how far he has gone (at the point of time of filming, Green had already been working at it for a couple of years). We come to learn that this is not the first time Green has done something like this. He had already completed a cross-country walk from Rockaway Beach, NY to Rockaway Beach, Oregon. One element that Workman brings into the documentary is a digital, three-dimensional map of New York, giving viewers (especially those who are not familiar with the city) a better understanding of where Green is going.
At first glance, we would think that seeing a person walking for an hour and a half would become pretty tedious. Workman does a very good job of transitioning the focus away from the project and more toward Green as a person. We get a number of testimonies from Green’s family and friends, including past romantic partners, and through them we realize that Green’s insistence on these walks are what makes him a unique person and yet difficult to connect to. Where other people his age have settled down, gotten married, and had children, Green has continued to move forward with his walks. By doing so he has become something of a community icon (he has been interviewed by news networks and occasionally give speeches at local schools) but has also isolated himself. Not many people, including long time New York citizens, would do what Green is doing. But Workman’s documentary never judges Green’s choices – this is what gives him the most fulfillment, so there you go.
But the bigger accomplishment is how – whether intentionally or not – Workman slowly develops the documentary into a love letter to the city. In an unexpected turn, as Green visits many of New York’s historic locations, his interest has driven him to do research on them. His blog not only contains the current status of his walk, but also provides historical information on the various sights. Green’s walks include thousands of photographs of just about every imaginable building, street, and landmark that has some historical significance. Often, Green will stop and point out a particular spot for the camera, providing background information as though he were tour guide. This development has added years to Green’s project, but he also admits that it has made this project his most rewarding. Through Green’s eyes, we see all of the different cultures and people that inhabit the city. Nearly every place and person has a past, and as Green’s walk goes on, each person he encounters is more than willing to share who they are to the camera.
And that’s what makes The World Before Your Feet a human story. Instead of speeding past the different boroughs in a car or train, Green’s walk allows him to really take in the world around him. Where so many people rush head down to wherever they’re going, Green keeps his eyes up. The film reinforces the idea that – as sentimental as it may sound – life is about the journey, not the destination.