Bing Liu’s remarkable documentary is much more than a group of kids executing some grinds. That’s the medicine they take to deal with the abuses they grew up with – whether it’s physical, verbal or substance. Minding the Gap is lyrical, gritty, and above all, human.
Filmmakers from different races, genders, and upbringings are being given platforms to a wider net to express their unique views that weren’t available before. Alternate avenues are being paved through streaming services and consumers are taking more chances on films, which they normally wouldn’t spend their hard-earned money on, by using subscription plans. Which begs the question: Are we in the golden age of popular documentaries? Or are we allowing ourselves to be exposed to a different movie-going experience? Bing Liu is an Asian-American filmmaker that’s a perfect example of seizing an opportunity when the chance arises. He’s only 24-years old.
Minding the Gap is a remarkable documentary that is much more than a group of young men executing a crooked-grind at the end of the rust belt in Rockford, Illinois (they still call it grinds, right?). Skateboarding is the medicine they take to deal with the abuses & atrocities they grew up with. Whether it’s physical, verbal, and/or (graduating to) substance abuse, skating frees them from the deep emotional toll they have not yet begun to process. What has broken them has united them.
Zack, Keire, and the director, Bing, are the subjects about growing up in a gritty blue-collar town that is chronicled in Liu’s footage over 12 years. They frequent any skate park, parking lots, sidewalks, open roads and parking garage they can find to carve or Caballerial their boards. Liu takes his hand-held camera and films scenes skating that take on a lyrical quality. It’s poetry in motion.
Zack works odd jobs to support a baby at home with his girlfriend, Nina. Skateboarding as a coping tool is tied to the weather. When it turns cold, there are fewer jobs to work & there is less time to skate. He uses substance abuse as a way to heal.
Keire is the youngest within the group and is black. His father was abusive and questioned his choice of friends, who are mostly white. He begins to struggle with his racial identity. There is a powerful scene captured by Liu when his friends use the N-word. Keire’s face says it all. He never felt like an outsider until that moment within his own support group.
This all comes back around to Bing, who interviews his own mother and reveals his stepfather abused him when she went back to work (on the very first day). We soon find his old friend, Zack, may be an abuser himself, as told by Nina on camera. His friends don’t think it’s in him. We soon find out, from Zack’s own mouth; his thoughts on women make it all but a certainty.
Liu’s film is a strikingly personal story that reveals some cold hard truths. His childhood friends’ lives have stalled, and some are turning into something that goes against his own morality. We don’t know if he outgrew his oldest friends, emotionally and professionally, but it’s easy to read between those lines. When Liu finally takes his turn as the subject of the film, he never turns the lens around at his own demons. He only shows the cause of them.
We do know he is using this film as a way to turn his childhood into a cathartic, positive experience, even though it might be at his friends’ expenses. Some might conclude these are faults within the film; others will find them to be very human. There is always worry about documentary film subjects showing off for the camera, especially with personal stories of addiction.
In this case, it does happen when Zack reveals to Liu that his drink is spiked with alcohol. He thinks it’s funny. It’s relevant to the story as a whole because clearly his substance abuse issues run so deep he doesn’t know he shouldn’t be drinking before lunch, midweek, and at work, even as a fully-grown adult.
The film is executive produced by the legendary Steven James, who directed Hoop Dreams, one of the best documentary films in the last 30 years. He offers a steady hand to Minding the Gap that can’t be overlooked. Nathan Helper’s gorgeous musical score enhances the emotional depth in scenes that could be considered minute, but now feel significant.
I think it’s clear we are now in the golden age of popular documentary filmmaking. Whether it’s streaming films on hard to watch subjects like Recovery Boys and The Bleeding Edge, or more watchable fair like Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Andre The Giant or Whitney, these films are finding an audience. Liu’s film is now streaming on Hulu; let’s hope it can find theirs.
Minding the Gap is lyrical, gritty, and above all, human.