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Review – Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story

If you’re going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk. So many of us in our every day lives speak about the changes we’d like to see happen in the world. We talk about the things we “should do” but perhaps never actually take action. However activist Mark Baumer took this saying very seriously, leading him on a cross country journey as he strived to make the world a better place.

Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story is a portrait of a man who lived his life to its fullest.  With his “one life to live” philosophy, Baumer seemed to always do things on a large scale.  Whether it was eating pizza every day for three months as a piece of ‘performance art’ or protesting a gas pipeline, the Brown University graduate met every challenge with enthusiasm and dedication.  He wanted to be a poet and an artist and made art in any space he could, a creator of avant-garde works.  After learning this about Baumer, it then seems like less of a giant leap when he decides to walk barefoot across America in order to bring attention to climate change.

Baumer, who took frequent camping trips with his parents when he was young, truly did love everything the natural world had to offer.  Powering his walk eating only whole plant foods, Baumer started his trek from Providence, Rhode Island in October of 2016 with an aim to spread the word about the climate crisis and to earn $10,000 in donations for an organization called FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas).  Along the way, he posts on his blog and creates You Tube videos about his journey.  He was extremely prolific during his walk, and while it took a while to gain traction, he eventually began to run into people that knew of him from his online presence.  He even starts to make local papers, finally bringing attention to the climate change challenges that he cares so deeply about.

Of course the other significant thing occurring in 2016 is the U.S. election, and this documentary doesn’t shy away from politics.  As Baumer continues his journey, he walks through the days of campaigning and debates and MAGA rallies.  He records videos speaking out against Donald Trump, a man who continually denies man’s role in climate change, and he records his devastation when Hillary Clinton loses.  It is somewhat eerie that Baumer’s final video from the 100th day of his journey happened to be January 20, 2017 – Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day.  It was the next day that Baumer lost his life, tragically struck by an SUV while walking along a Florida highway, something Mark had predicted might happen even during the earliest days of his travels.

For her third feature documentary filmmaker Julie Sokolow (Woman on Fire) crafts a fitting celebration and portrait of Mark Buamer, not only as an activist, but as a son, a colleague, and a friend.  She was herself a fan after discovering Baumer’s videos online during his walk and knew she wanted to make a film about his journey.  Utilizing Baumer’s own You Tube videos as well as interviews with his parents, Jim and Mary Baumer, and others close to Mark, she manages to balance the tone of the film as it navigates a political landscape as seen from the perspective of her eccentric subject.

Make no mistake, Baumer has a big personality which can take some getting used to, and truthfully may be off-putting to some (stick with it, he will win you over). His social media videos can alternate between awkward interactions, sincerity, and diatribes where he sometimes shouts at his audience.  His mother describes the family as “crazy in a good way”, his father “intense” and “passionate,” and all of these are good descriptors and explanations of where Baumer gets his oft over-exuberance.  But even if the delivery is sometimes unconventional, Baumer undeniably has a vehement, heartfelt belief in his journey and how he can influence a change in the climate crisis, an enviable commitment to his cause.

It is certainly not coincidence that this film is being released one week before the 2020 election, though I’m certain those watching it will not be Trump followers.  However it is fitting that Baumer’s journey can be highlighted and celebrated against the backdrop of a country on the edge of a political precipice, where climate change is yet again a major factor facing voters.  In a time when science is being actively denied and the world is facing critical environmental issues, what we all need are a few more people like Mark Baumer, who never stopped believing that each and every one of us could make this world a better place.

Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story is available on digital platforms, VOD on October 27th

You can also check out Mark Baumer’s You Tube channel here.

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