Film Reviews

‘The World Before Your Feet’: Experience NYC in the Moment

Travel New York City by foot with Matt Green

Director Jeremy Workman films Matt Green in Long Island City, Queens
Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment


The World Before Your Feet
(USA, 95 min._
Dir. Jeremy Workman

Not many documentaries out there can offer the in-the-moment perspective The World Before Your Feet can. Matt Green, the curious subject of this simple yet compelling documentary from Jeremy Workman, is on a personal quest to walk every street in New York City’s five boroughs, inhabited or not. He started this endlessly interesting, undeniably obsessive, and slightly peculiar walk, alongside a blog of research and photographs, nearly seven years ago. By the end of the film, Green is still far from completing his walk, but he’s in no hurry.

At one point in the film Green says, “the goal is not to finish the walk but do everything on the way to finish it.” His goal is not monetary, nor to finish the walk, but to explore and pay attention to what is around him. During a talk at a school, Green tells the kids that walking is a cool way to be in a place and yet still be moving. You move in slow speed which allows you to really appreciate what’s around you and see things that are normally invisible. He says, “when you stop to look at it and take the time to look at it, it becomes pretty.” What emerges is a kind of playful psychogeography, a fascination with the ordinary details of life and the little mysteries of the city. Green walks, Green wanders, Green stops with curiosity to whatever person, situation, location that tickles him and lets the moment be.

The documentary, like its character, mimics this precisely and moves at an unhurried, wandering pace. The camera follows Green around, stops when he stops, looks when he looks and learns his story and history through his walk and interactions with the people he meets. If there is a structure to the film, it is constructed like Green’s mind. It is less interested in the bigger picture, in exposing or uncovering anything, but in slowing down to explore the city with the patience to meander, stop, and actively look through the lens of a man only interested in “opening up my eyes to all the things around me that I wouldn’t normally pay attention to.”

Other than clues from the talking heads of people around him dropped sparingly throughout the film, Green does not give a clear reason for why he decided to quit his job as a civil engineer and start this walk. His brother and parents suggest that a near-death experience led him to realise the value of life and the uncertainty of the future. Hence, he is living in the now. His ex-girlfriends on the other hand, credit it to a fixation with the immediate present over the uncertainty of the future and a fear of the unknown. These sporadic interviews with Green and separately with his loved ones are the closest the audience gets to uncovering who the man truly is. Green is an easy-going character, who seems to have the ability to disarm anyone he meets, but at the end of the film I was left wishing they had dug a little deeper. At the end of the day, The World Before Your Feet is not about New York City, but about Matt Green.

Nonetheless, the film offers a rare perspective on a subject, who is living out his twin desires to live for today while viewing every section of his beloved New York City. One cannot help but become disarmed by Green, a quirky man following his personal calling, and become infatuated with his obsessive and continuously interesting walk. Like him, one wants to wander, stop and really look.

The World Before Your Feet opens Feb. 8 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.
For a second take on the film, read Marc Glassman’s review here.