Matt Green Took a Walk That Led to the One Earth Film Fest

Matt Green, the subject of “The World Before Your Feet.” Photo by Michael Berman,  bermanpictures.com

Matt Green, the subject of “The World Before Your Feet.” Photo by Michael Berman, bermanpictures.com

By Cassandra West

Matt Green, a former civil engineer and New York City transplant, was two and half years into what could only be described as a loooong walk when his friend Jeremy Workman started following him around with a camera.

Green’s walk ultimately became a 95-minute documentary, “The World Before Your Feet,” which comes to Chicago on March 9 for a One Earth Film Festival screening at Hyde Park’s Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave.

I recently reached Green, who was in his hometown, Ashland, Va., for a screening. He was not walking at that moment but sitting in his parents’ home.

Asked about his star role in the film, Green said modestly, “I’m just the guy in the film.”

Well, this guy has logged “about over 9,100 miles” walking around New York City. And the urban pedestrian has worn out eight pair of shoes along the way.

So why did this guy decide to take a walk? He said a lot had to do with riding the subway when he was new to the city, and “slowly understanding how humongous the city is.” On the subway map, he noted “the far-flung stations and wondering what things look like out there.”

That made Green more and more curious as he began to realize “how much of New York City doesn’t look like what I expect it to look like based on the common perceptions of it in the media.”

So he started walking. Now, “My whole existence is doing this,” he said.

The “urban Thoreauvian,” as The New York Times described Green in its review of the film, neither maintains his own apartment, nor does he own a car. His lifestyle he said is “very minimalist.” He moves from one place to another in the city, cat sitting and couch surfing. He earns a small income from his blog and taking photos of what he sees while walking. He also gives talks at schools and other locations. And he leads walks.

Green has plans to lead a walk in Chicago the morning of March 10. (Check back to this page later for more details.)

Stepping out into the world has given Green time to process and reflect on the world that lies just before his feet—and disabuse himself of common perceptions about places, New York City, in particular.

“Once you get out and actually start walking through this place, not just passing through quickly, you realize that none of these stereotypes is true,” he said. “Stereotypes about people are never going to be true because there are too many people in a neighborhood for anything to be true about all of them. It’s a really good way to remember in a deep way the world is never as simple as people want it to be and people tell you it is.”

But the film brings more into view than just New York’s iconic skyline filled with skyscrapers. It reveals the city’s hidden natural world.

“One comment we get a lot is that people are shocked at how much open space and how many natural areas you see in the film because that is just not how New York is perceived,” Green said. “You see this vast array of environments and ecosystems in the movie, which is not even the explicit intent of the [documentary].

“To me there’s a much deeper environmental message that I certainly feel personally, which is that the film is really, at its heart, this very simple way of living. I don’t own many possessions. I carry my stuff around from place to place where I’m staying, obviously in this kind of low-impact way of existence on the Earth.

“But to me, there’s this deeper message about thinking about what’s important in life and cutting things down to their basics. Walking fulfills a lot of these needs that we otherwise fill with gadgets and with travel and with all these things that have a bigger footprint on the Earth. It’s like these emotional needs we’re filling by trying to have these luxurious kinds of things in our lives. The idea that I can kind of stay where I am and appreciate the world in this way is deeply satisfying. That’s an important thing to become aware of.”

Experience "The World Before Your Feet" for yourself on Saturday, March 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave, in Chicago. Tickets for the screening and program that follows are available online at oneearthfilmfest.org.