Impact: Mobility and Modernity Reconsidered

“Why do people wear shoes?” is the deceptively straightforward question animating "Impact." A film seemingly about barefoot running, as it develops it becomes an exploration of modernity’s relationship to technology, evolution, nature, our bodies, our selves, and the human spirit.

Teage O’Connor is the one who poses that question. He aspires to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon—the race from which three Americans will be selected to run at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo—and the film follows him on that quest, along the way exploring the science, history, and lore of barefoot running. Teage trains and races almost exclusively without shoes and in “minimalist” footwear that is the antithesis of the rigid, controlling, cushioned, heavy sneakers the world is used to.

Why run in no shoes—or virtually no shoes—as Teage does? Barefoot-minimalist advocates insist the billion-dollar running shoe industry has employed slick marketing and shady science to convince the world that feet need protecting, and they find in its success a metaphor for what ails us. In "Impact" scientists, medical professionals, and runners debate shoes’ necessity. Their stances subtly become stand-ins for modernity’s technological determinism over and against an assertion that modern life runs in the opposite direction from personal health and communal well-being.

Are our feet—and our bodies more generally—broken, or are we simply not using them as designed? Anthropologists, podiatrists, and running researchers wrestle with that question in "Impact." One side insists that we break them by wearing shoes, as we must do, and only more sophisticated shoes, orthotics, and similar cures can fix them. The other, embracing the “mismatch theory of evolution,” decries the notion that something as essential as bipedalism was “designed to hurt.”

Tying it all together is Teage’s quest to land a spot in the Marathon Trial race. We join him as he runs barefooted in the bitter Vermont winter, struggles with injury, battles soul-crushing heat (and goofy interviewers) at his hometown race, attempts to best the world record for the fastest 100 kilometers ever run barefooted, and runs races from coast to coast.

In Teage we find a fierce competitor with an expansive intellect. He is our thoughtful guide not only to barefoot running but to our place in the world, arguing in the opening that we may never come around to the necessity of running in simpler shoes—and, implicitly, living saner lives—until a generational shift takes place, so seductive are modernity’s delusions.

  • Rik Scarce
    Director
  • Rik Scarce
    Producer
  • Rik Scarce
    Editor
  • Rik Scarce
    Writer
  • Teage O'Connor
    Key Cast
  • Claire Watts-Webster
    Key Cast
  • Irene Davis
    Key Cast
  • Alex Ramsey
    Key Cast
  • Joseph Hamill
    Key Cast
  • Kevin Kirby
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary
  • Runtime:
    57 minutes 33 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 10, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    20,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
  • New York Writers Institute Film Festival
    Albany, New York
    United States
    April 29, 2021
    Northeast/New England Premier
    Official Selection
  • Austin Indie Fest
    Austin, Texas
    United States
    November 21, 2020
    World Premier
    Audience Choice Award
Director Biography - Rik Scarce

I am a sociology professor at Skidmore College in Upstate New York, with primary teaching interests in video ethnography and environmental sociology.

My background is in traditional textual ethnographic research. But almost fifteen years ago I decided to learn how to make films. It was a transformative decision in many ways. I've shifted from writing books to filming and editing footage, and my teaching has evolved to be more visual in all of my courses and to emphasize classes that combine visual storytelling with ethnographic methods. In short, I am an alchemist who mixes the art of filmmaking with the rigor of social science data collection.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

"Impact" began as a very personal project. When I discovered barefoot and "minimalist" running in 2012, it changed my life. Convinced I would never run without injury, I had given up all hope of running years before. But when I needed new orthotics and became appalled by the cost, I discovered a simpler, lasting way to run.

The minimalist running shoes I discovered are slipper-like in their flexibility. Thin and light, they are the antithesis of the rigid, controlling running shoes people take for granted as essential for running or for movement generally. For the first time in my life, I was able to run without pain--in fact, I've had only one injury in the last nine years.

It didn't take long for me to wonder how solid the science was behind this "new" kind of running--of course, it's not new at all, since for almost all of humanity's existence we have run with little or nothing between our feet and the ground. And so I began interviewing barefoot and minimalist runners and the scientists, podiatrists, medical doctors, and others who have steeped themselves in the subject.

In the end, I filmed in-depth interviews with more than 60 people and spoke with nearly two dozen others for shorter conversations on-camera. My travels took me to 19 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and Europe. I followed Teage O'Connor, whose pursuit of an invitation to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trial race provides the film's story arc, from Boston to California, with stops along the way in Vermont, Ohio, Arizona, and Illinois.

Other filming locations included podiatrists' offices, running science laboratories, the world's largest running industry trade show, and shoe manufacturing facilities. I filmed at a 24-hour race that took place on a high school track, a 50-mile trail race in the Catskill Mountains (for which I also crewed to deepen my understanding of the runners' grueling experiences), the start and finish of a 900-mile run for charity, multiple marathons, countless shorter races, and an attempt to set the world record for the fastest 100 kilometers ever run barefooted. I crashed my drone (it survived) and froze my fingers almost to the point of frostbite. And through it all I had a blast making this film!