Minding the Gap (2018)
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Lu, his friend Zack and their younger friend, Kiere are the main subjects of the story, each passionate skaters trying to get by in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois. Piecing together that skating is symptomatic of something deeper between them, Lu decides to probe Zack and Kiere, gently pushing them toward emotional honesty. What he uncovers is a troubling and all-too-true reality that each of them is enduring, a revelation that transforms the entire viewing experience.
The film is full of these subtle, unexpected surprises. Most documentaries make an assertion or hypothesis that the filmmakers explore in depth, and the stories have an intuitive arc to them. "Minding the Gap" takes place over the course of many years and even includes footage from several years earlier, but that's not immediately apparent. Our perception of the story, along with its scope and impact, changes the longer the movie's timeline gets. Essentially, Lu's patience with his story pays off tremendously; letting these characters' lives play out deepens and enriches everything.
Time factors in the most in Zack's tumultuous relationship with Nina. She's pregnant when we meet them, and as their baby boy, Elliott, begins to grow, their lives and their relationship struggles take on a different urgency. Lu captures lots of critical moments in their journey (usually from either his or her perspective separately), which proves vital to the film because so much of the rest is reflective, specifically on Lu and Kiere's childhoods. The Zack-Nina relationship is, in effect, a microcosm of so many of the obstacles, struggles and themes of all the characters' lives.
As personal as the film gets, however, it's also a technical accomplishment. Lu conveys not just the cool, but also the zen of skateboarding that these characters experience through excellent action shots. He and co-editor Joshua Altman nail those movement sequences on top of powerfully stitching together so many different moments and stories. The film sometimes gets so deep into the characters' emotional lives that skateboarding feels irrelevant, but the extent to which skateboarding provides escape and "therapy" as one character puts it sinks completely in by the end.
Here are these men who will gladly risk every limb to land a trick yet are reticent to take emotional risks. Only Lu's close relationship with these subjects allows them to open up. His own sense of an imperative to ask them the tough, honest questions and blur his role between filmmaker and friend/relative creates the film's most powerful material. At a few points, subjects ask him if they should pretend he's not there or talk to him like they're having a conversation, suggesting the strong influence of his dual-role in his film.
Yet "Minding the Gap" is far from self-centered and self-serving. Rather, it is indicative of how some stories can only be collected and recorded by the people who live them. We'll need more brave filmmakers like Lu in order to discover these stories and let their truth find the eyes, ears and hearts of those who identify with and need them most.
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The film footage takes place over a number of years. The beginning shows the boys as teenage skateboard experts. The first impression is that this is a skateboard doc but it doesn't take long for the film to show its true depth. The testimonies of the abuse from the subjects regarding husbands / partners / fathers / step-fathers have much in common but are also unique. One of the commonalities is a phrase that has sadly been repeated, in various forms, for decades: "yes, he can be terribly mean but when he's nice, he's really so sweet". In one such case, the abuse is subtle as the voice of an unseen man gives an "order" to his female partner who is being interviewed.
The film's boldest moments include those focusing on one of the young men (Zack) who is starting to fall into this negative pattern. What he's doing is wrong but the viewer has already felt compassion for him from previous excerpts. A film-maker is at his/her best when the viewer is left with conflicting feelings such as this case.
"Minding the Gap" has many strong qualities. One is that its creator is not from the outside looking in but one of the insiders. To maintain composure and seem neutral to the history that is so close to him is remarkable.
I expected something featuring tricks and skate videos, however I received an extremely emotional reaction to a brilliant documentary about real people living through very real issues I have had experienced. The film was made brilliantly and I have highly recommended this to my friends. People who skate and those who don't. A very well done piece. I grew up in the Midwest and knew the struggle of "when is the sidewalk good for skating" with the cabin fever of just wanting to pop an ollie outside.
Brilliant. Highly recommended, especially for anyone that broke out on a skateboard (bike, roller blades, etc) just to get outside when young. This doc is terrificly an underdog.
Anyway, a fine documentary. The director takes an incisive look at these men whom he's known for years. I recommend it.
The natural connection between these guys story is impressing and grows up even more during the film, always real, the plan of Bing Liu really works with this documentary, and this is really appreciative. I wish all the best for these guys.
Liu's documentary efforts tried to showcase a small circle of childhood friends, each has an opportunity to tell their story of teen angst. Most of these stories are based in Rockford, Illinois, it described only briefly, as an abandoned small city. Their suburban problems based within classism and domestic violence.
Although one can appreciate the human narrative, Liu could have delved into "why" Rockford has evolved into most low economic and disadvantaged place (as stated in the film's beginning). Instead, it uses the topic of skateboarding as a way that these young adults as teens dealt with problems (this is probably why the film has gotten popular). Since one may think that skateboarding is the main focus, it seems to work as a marketing tool to get the film screened.
In the end, this is a nice baby-step but again Liu could have delved into the "why" Rockford teens went through issues of class, gender and race, maybe he has a plan to make a follow-up.
There should be no reason for me to connect with this film. Yet I did in a very strong way. Mr. Liu showed me his subjects' pain and did it in such an honest way. As he says to his friend, Kiere, at one point - I see myself in your story. He is just exploring and trying to find an answer to his own pain through the mediums he knows - skateboarding and filmmaking.
The third act climax for each subject is painful and heart wrenching. I'm thankful that Mr. Liu shared this with us.
There is a wonderful and frank intimacy to Minding the Gap thanks to its personal relation to director Bing Liu, who is one of the three young skateboarders the film focuses on. The other two are his best friends Keire and Zack, who all live in Rockford, Illinois; a city which has seen much better days. We see them as fearless children, fooling around as teenagers and eventually as young adults struggling to grow up and find their own paths. We see their best and worst times, their loves and their fears, and how the act of skating together would temporarily free them of their problems.
Watching it feels like watching a home movie, and some of the footage captured is exactly that, but Liu manages to retain an intensely focused narrative that weaves an impressively complex tapestry of his life and his friends. This is due to Liu's determination to shed light on his experiences, which includes facing the traumatizing abuse he suffered from his stepfather. His friends experienced similar hardships and what starts as a skateboarding documentary slowly turns into something much more serious. There are questions raised about the cyclical effect of the neglect or abuse they all suffered, especially with Zack, who is a struggling new father and often feels a fraud. Kiere seems utterly lost in his new adult world where he must find a job, and the film demonstrates the severe problems caused by male emotional suppression through Kiere. Meanwhile, Bing himself bravely sits down with his mother in a heartbreaking interview to try and heal past scars.
It's miraculous that Minding the Gap never feels self-serving or preachy, but it simply never does. It's a sensitive study on manhood in today's climate peppered with keen observations on race and class to boot, whilst also celebrating the culture of skateboarding and it's therapeutic qualities. Speaking of skateboarding, the film is layered with a series of sublime sequences of the three friends skating and pulling off impressive tricks through Rockford. Set to a soothing score by Nathan Halpern and Chris Ruggiero, the liberating feeling from this subculture really shines through better than any film I've seen on the subject.
Minding the Gap might not be what you expect from a "skateboarding documentary" as it meanders unexpectedly through various hard-hitting subjects, but it never feels misjudged or ill-considered. Quite the opposite actually; the entire canvas of ideas shot through Bing Liu's camera fits so perfectly it'll hit you like a ton of bricks. Sensational.
A passion project that's 12 years in the making, the film explores race, class, friendship, manhood & domestic trauma with its self-reflective narrative, and also marks an impressive debut for director Bing Liu who puts together vignettes of his own life & that of his friends into a poignant portrait that's crafted with genuine care, told with heartfelt intimacy & exhibits a surprising depth in its rendition.