The World Be­fore Your Feet

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It is not quite ac­cu­rate to say that The World Be­fore Your Feet, a new doc­u­men­tary from di­rec­tor Jeremy Work­man, presents a side of New York City you’ve never seen. The re­al­ity is that it presents many, from the tall grasses and wooded land­scape of Great Kills Park on Staten Is­land to Har­lem bar­ber­shops to des­o­late ur­ban boule­vards of bro­ken dreams. The film doc­u­ments the jour­ney of Matt Green, a for­mer civil en­gi­neer who was tired of his desk job and de­cided to make a project of walk­ing ev­ery street, path, park, and pier in New York City, cov­er­ing a to­tal dis­tance of ap­prox­i­mately 8,000 miles. He started off un­der the be­lief that his epic trek through all five bor­oughs would take about two to three years. More than six years later, he’s still cov­er­ing ground.

You might ask why any­one would do such a thing. “There’s some peo­ple out there that just do things for rea­sons they don’t un­der­stand, that other peo­ple don’t un­der­stand,” he of­fers by way of ex­pla­na­tion. But the more compelling rea­sons present them­selves as Green dis­cov­ers the city’s many hid­den gems, meet­ing lots of in­ter­est­ing peo­ple along the way. He de­vel­ops an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with New York, its res­i­dents, and the city’s many dif­fer­ent land­scapes.

Green, who bud­gets him­self $15 per day on his daily walks, has no job and no place to live. He lives on a diet of rice and beans and re­lies on the gen­eros­ity of friends who let him crash on their couches. By day, he ex­plores the neigh­bor­hoods in the vicin­ity of wher­ever it is he’s spend­ing the night. By night, he re­searches the his­tory of places that piqued his cu­rios­ity on his lap­top. On Pi­o­neer Street in the Red Hook neigh­bor­hood of Brooklyn, he dis­cov­ers a hid­den oa­sis. He vis­its a sec­tion of Queens that was once home to beach houses and bun­ga­lows, now empty of build­ings and over­run with weeds.

Green is gen­uinely in­trigued and de­lighted by what he learns on his quests. But his de­vo­tion to walk­ing the city has taken a toll, in the mu­tual breakup of an en­gage­ment mere weeks be­fore his wed­ding and the loss of a girl­friend of two years who had dif­fi­culty with his soli­tary na­ture. It is clear, how­ever, that Green en­joys in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple. The more he learns about the city around him, the more he shares that knowl­edge with oth­ers.

The World Be­fore Your Feet may oc­ca­sion­ally play too much like a travelogue. Work­man cap­tures much of his footage of Green from be­hind, which leads the viewer on to one thing, then the next, and so on. At its best, the film evokes a city of mul­ti­lay­ered sto­ries and un­ex­pected sights. But you don’t need to wear out your shoes to know that.

— Michael Abatemarco

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