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World Before Your Feet, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not as exhaustive as its subject's quest, but interesting for it."
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2018: It's a competitive business, making an independent film and then getting it into theaters and festivals and in good position for streaming services, convincing people that it is worth their time and money. That's why I take a special joy in seeing movies like "The World Before Your Feet" make the cut despite being completely inconsequential. Go to enough film festivals, or see enough boutique-house films at a rate that approaches going to a festival, and it's something of a relief to see something that is pleasant and well made but free of the burden of convincing you that it's important.

The film follows Matt Green, a former civil engineer who has spent much of his thirties on a project to walk every street in every borough of New York City. Depending what you count as a street, that is somewhere between six and eight thousand miles (Matt is walking footpaths in public parks and cemeteries, so his number skews high). He is not necessarily being systematic about it - in some cases a day's starting point is determined by where his couch-surfing or cat-sitting - and he's opting to travel light enough to keep his expenses low rather than hold down a job. The film opens on day 1,258 out of about 2,200 and counting, and jumps around from there.

Between Matt's improvised, non-linear itinerary and the need to filter even more uneventful footage than usual, director Jeremy Workman (who also shot, edited, and produced the film) must have had a heck of a challenge finding a shape for his movie, and a great deal of his success comes from not imposing too much structure on it. The film itself is impressively freeform, spending time on random subjects like barber shops with z's replacing s's in their names ("Cutz", "Shearz") or "churchagogues" (former temples repurposed into churches after the Jewish community moved but still showing their old symbols if you know where to look), but managing momentum well; Workman may fade to black, throw up a new title card, and move forward (or back) a few months every once in a while, but it seldom feels like stopping and starting again.

And what does he have to say about subject Matt Green? Maybe less than you'd expect, which may be the best choice. Workman shows Matt as a friendly guy and gives a bit of background - the audience introduced to his family and told about a previous cross-country walk - but though we get to hear him talk a lot about how he needs very little or what got him onto this seriously eccentric path, which he repeatedly reminds us is not something for a book or a monetized blog. There are interviews with ex-girlfriends that demonstrate how this lifestyle/obsession can make social connections difficult to maintain and some interviews with others attempting similar feats that touch on how his ability to do this without incident is probably greatly assisted by his being white and male, but delving into how his ability to take on this project is the result of being well-positioned is not where this movie goes. It's mentioned that he used to work as a civil engineer, but how that connects to his inspecting an entire massive city is not something that gets brought up much.

It's interesting to watch how he goes about it, and the portrait it paints of New York. Consider an early scene, where Matt is walking down the street and Workman's camera will occasionally wander to things he is completely ignoring, while at other times Matt takes a quick, darting glance only to keep walking, never breaking pace - despite Matt's endeavors to be exhaustive, every perspective is different, and the way the city transforms from one block or borough or season to the next is striking, as are the ways it sometimes stays the same. It is not the typical love letter to New York City, because it quietly explodes the idea of a "real" New York without Matt having a personal one: The City contains too many facets and would arguably be incomplete without any, despite this wanderer's curiosity to see and understand it in total.

When Matt completes his walk (and maybe his blog), it will likely not have the sort of impact that most of the other documentary subjects at this festival, whether scientist or musician, would see from their success, but it's still something that's fun to know about. And, sometimes, this sort of look at the world can show you things out of the corner of your eye that you might not see looking head-on.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32045&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/28/18 01:12:02
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