The World Before Your Feet
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