Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story was my first introduction to the eccentric writer and eponymous artist. Baumer went viral in 2016 after he embarked on a barefoot walk across America. This documentary takes in various beats along his journey of over 100 days. It’s a portrait that is as rich and detailed as an oil painting from an old master.
Director, Julie Sokolow is no stranger to making films about eccentric characters. One of her previous ones was Aspie Seeks Love, a look at an artist named David Matthews and his quest for love as a man with Asperger’s syndrome. In her latest offering, Mark Baumer is an interesting subject, even though some viewers may not warm to his eccentric tastes and offbeat personality.
For my money, Baumer is an absolute charmer with a childlike sense of whimsy and excitement. I would have loved to have called him a friend. He was a plant-based vegan and performance artist. He completed a range of different projects including writing 50 novels in a year and eating only pizza for three months. A prolific creative, it’s surprising that he isn’t a household name.
Baumer looks like Neil from The Young Ones with his long, brown hair, slim frame and gentle way of standing for his beliefs. He also has a real DIY/punk-like spirit that reminds me of Darren Hanlon. While on his journey, Baumer was writing poetry, filming videos and taking photos. Sokolow does an excellent job of knitting together the highlights from Baumer’s many creations along with interviews with his: parents, girlfriend, co-workers and activist friends. It’s a rather rich tapestry of different colours and textures because you come to appreciate how complex a human being he was. Without wanting to give away too much, the trip ends in tragedy even though the film remains optimistic.
This documentary captures Baumer’s essence really well. We can appreciate what would motivate this man to leave behind his home and all his possessions to take a barefoot walk through a U.S. autumn and winter. He did so to raise awareness about climate change and to raise money for FANG- the Fighting Against Natural Gas group of environmental activists. Just as in the film, Wild, this journey was more than a simple trek. Baumer discovered himself and really hit his stride in terms of discovering his life’s purpose here.
Sokolow does an excellent job of telling this story in a respectful way. Baumer’s barefoot wander commenced in Rhode Island in October 2016. By day 100, Baumer had travelled over 1100kms and Donald Trump was inaugurated as the President of the United States. We see how Bauer the environmental warrior handles this development. This could have made for some dark moments but it is touching to see Baumer continue to find the light in humanity- especially when strangers stop to offer him shoes and a ride. That Baumer declined these offers and was determined to finish his mammoth trek is crazy and awe-inspiring.
Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story is one that will make you laugh and cry, and also switch on your heart and your mind. Baumer was one man who believed with utter conviction that he could make a big difference by himself. This may be a little idealistic but if you ever needed something to shake you out of complacency and challenge you to live a simpler life, than look no further. Mark Baumer knew how to walk the walk, and his grand undertaking and unique spirit deserves to be remembered in this stunning portrait of a film.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE).
Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story streams online and on-demand as part of the Transitions Film Festival from 26th February to 15th March. For more information head HERE.