Written by: Jessica Pena, CC2K Staff Writer
The side effects of growing up in abusive homes are immediate and if you found a hobby that completely let you forget about your troubles, then you found a safe space, a haven, a family outside your own. Nothing else around you matters because any pain you may be feeling is now bottled up, stored away so you can finally breathe. Personal growth and abuse are at the center of the Sundance award-winning documentary Minding the Gap. For the three main subjects of Bing Liu’s film, skateboarding does just that. It is an escape from the abusive environment and behaviors at home.
Living among the American Rust Belt and its depreciating economic landscape, Liu found joy filming his friends’ skateboards over the years. So much so that his footage grew from being random amusement to an experimental way of telling stories from the heart. As the film goes on, we learn the comfort found on those boards only saves you for so long before you fall.
At the center are three friends who found the open arms of skateboarding and what it gave them. We see the outspoken, slightly anarchist Zack and his relationship with his girlfriend Nina unravel as they become parents to a baby boy. Kiere is the gentle 17-year-old still coming to terms with the passing of his father, and how his racial identity impacts his life around his white skater friends. Then there’s the director himself, Bing, naturally reserved but engrossingly curious about the way people exist. Living in a household with an abusive stepfather Bing searches for answers for his own peace of mind.
As we learn more about him in the later half of the film, it becomes clear how much violence in the home is left unspoken. It’s all the more devastating how early abuse to young men is thrown off as part of life, part of the manhood status quo. In this documentary, it’s more about how they deal with it rather than the abuse itself, and it becomes a patient, reflective hard watch at times.
As amazing as Liu captures his friends on the boards, it’s within the documentary’s vérité structure which pushes it out of the norm. Minding the Gap follows its own formula in showing us just how important it is to the culture we live in. The way toxic parental masculinity plays a role in their lives is excruciatingly real. The film vows to thoughtfully put that existence into a strong form for the viewer. It begins on a euphoric high, seeing them skate off onto the sunset-glazed streets of their town of Rockford, Illinois. “When you’re a kid, you just do, you just act. And then somewhere along the line everyone loses that,” says a 23-year-old Zack. As their experiences in volatile homes are similar, it affects everyone differently and we see these characters cope and evolve in their own way.
In Liu’s interview with CC2K, he notes the film’s aesthetic as “first and foremost a human story, rather than a glorification of grinds and flips.” Liu’s keen ability to record and capture a humanist approach to the mix of skate and identity is magnificent. Its focus on what the men do with their lives years after abuse is another telling route of the story. The film is handled with care, never aggression, as Liu has a way of letting his friends open up and letting them talk about the experiences that are shaping them. It’s a timeline of seeing who you’ve been all these years struggling to keep your head above water and then deciding how to make life better from it.
At one point, Zack asks Liu if he’s filming him as the kind where BIng’s there, or the kind where his friend/filmmaker is absent. Liu is not only there by their sides, he offers a listening ear, something young adults in their place need more of. Every ollie, kickflip, and grind welcomes us to a subculture that’s exuberant, but for these boys it’s a lifeline. Liu becomes the connective tissue, the person pulling us closer in and building trust.
Minding the Gap is organic, personal filmmaking with an edge. From its quietly stunning visuals to its painful silences, it brews a lot to think on. Liu pays close attention to the way his friends react and collide with the world, showing resilience, and sometimes the pain that allows it. It’s essential documentary viewing that opens up an important conversation with ourselves and those around us.
Minding the Gap is now streaming on Hulu and showing at select theaters.
Author: Jessica Pena, CC2K Staff Writer
Self-proclaimed Richard Linklater junkie. Crying at the movie theater is my favorite pastime. Some of my words can be read at JumpcutOnline.com and other sites.