Way back in 2016, a lot of people were growing concerned about the future of the country and the world. Climate change continued to run rampant as temperatures continued to rise, storms grew progressively more intense, and the polar ice caps slowly melted. Those fears were further cemented by Donald Trump’s improbable rise to the presidency, which resulted in any number of steps backward on environmental protection. With climate change deniers running the White House, the Department of Energy, and even the EPA, lots of people became angry, but not very many people actually did anything with their anger. In Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story, documentary filmmaker Julie Sokolow follows the journey of one man who decided he needed to assume responsibility for the future of our planet and take action. However, much like the man himself, the action he decided to take was rather unorthodox: walking across America barefoot.
Mark Baumer grew up in rural Maine, the only child of adoring parents. Even as a kid, he had a passion for nature, preferring to spend time outdoors instead of sitting in front of the television. A bit of an eccentric yet completely comfortable in his skin, he developed a penchant for the arts, from poetry to the Sisyphean task of writing fifty books with increasingly ridiculous names, such as The Global Struggle for Dead Milk and the aptly titled, The Books Keep Getting Worse and Worse. He also developed a love for absurd, almost surrealist pieces of minimalist DIY video. After getting involved with the FANG collective (Fighting Against Natural Gas), he decided to walk across the country barefoot to raise money for the organization and help raise awareness about climate change. Part marketing stunt, part charity fundraiser, and part performance art, a long walk might seem to some like an odd way to go about saving the world, but as Mark convincingly argues, nothing else has worked so far, so why can’t this?
Much of the film is comprised of Mark’s original YouTube videos documenting his trip, which he narrates in his uniquely quirky voice. From the first clip of him detailing the spartan contents of his backpack to finding a dog and pretending to be confused as to what species it is, almost every moment of his journey is imbued with his whimsical personality and childlike sense of excitement. Mark is an unparalleled optimist about the world and the people in it, an attitude that is sometimes rewarded. People regularly stop to offer him rides and shoes, which he politely declines as he expresses his sincere gratitude. At one point, one such passerby even donates a dollar to Mark’s campaign, even though he doesn’t believe in climate change. Despite his borderline insufferable cheeriness, Mark has his lower moments, too. When Trump is officially elected, or when inclement weather drives him stir crazy in a cheap motel room until he decides to take a bus down to Jacksonville and more or less start his trip over, his spirit will sometimes be diminished, but it will never be broken.
Mark’s stated objective is to raise awareness about the realities of climate change, but Barefoot isn’t heavy on details or PowerPoint slides like An Inconvenient Truth. In fact, it really isn’t much of an issue film at all. Mark spouts a few impromptu soundbites here and there, and the inclusion of archival footage about Trump’s election and early cabinet picks may be enough to raise passions and drive a few more people to the polls this November. But really, the heart of the film is Mark’s enduring optimism and commitment to making the world a better place, even at the risk of his own health, security, and life. While you may not buy into the premise of his walk, it’s hard not to be won over by the infectious dedication and joy he puts into everything he does. Mark puts everything in is life on hold – jobs, family, relationships – to do something he truly believes in, finding the beauty and wonder in everything he encounters along the way.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story may be only be a film about climate change in the most superficial sense, but it still manages to deliver a message that is both inspiring and cautionary. It’s about passion, commitment, sacrifice, and the importance of living in the moment. The opening quote from Mark sums up his philosophy of life pretty well: “It’s amazing how often we all forget this is the only opportunity we are ever going to have to live this life.” That principle guides every facet of Mark’s walk, from his decision to make a difference now, to the fun he manages to find at every stop, every hiccup, and even every setback. While he will undoubtedly strike many as too much of an unabashed weirdo to be a role model, we can all learn something from his commitment, his ceaseless humor, and even his increasingly swollen feet.