‘Minding The Gap’ is a remarkable achievement. For a non-fiction piece of filmmaking, it imbues an emotional intelligence grounded in such tangible intimacy, as heartbreaking as much as it is astonishing. Bing Liu’s documentary begins as an endearing testament to the bonds forged through skateboarding, but in expanding on subjects becomes an expert delineation on toxic masculinity, domestic violence and the existentialism of moving into adulthood. Expanding into a character study, it becomes experiential, as raw candour coalesces with the discernible economic depression of their Rust-Belt hometown to exalt a strikingly cathartic experience. It is one of the most affecting documentaries of the year, and one of the most beautifully realised in recent memory.
For over twelve years, Liu has been filming himself and his friends skateboarding as they grew up together in Rockford, Illinois. It united the three of them as youths, but their parallels ran considerably deeper with upbringings mirrored by turbulence through various forms of damaging masculinity. Moving into adulthood, the three of them have been shaped by the intricacies of its heterogenous nature. For 23-year-old Zack, he is struggling to uphold the responsibilities of raising his newborn son as his relationship with the child’s mother rapidly stagnates. 17-year-old Keire is trying to decipher his racial identity alongside an enhanced sense of duty following the loss of his father. While for Liu, the correlation of issues stemming from both race and manhood unveil his own demons.
At first, ‘Minding The Gap’ is primarily focused on celebrating the diversity and culture thriving in the skateboarding scene. Liu, who also serves as the film’s cinematographer, captures the skateboarding with such gracefulness; it is brilliant to observe. It flows spectacularly with the medium of film as it orchestrates the camaraderie, the imprint it marks on the subjects’ identities and a near-perfect illustration of what the recreation represents. To watch the central subjects skate is thrilling, it frequently made me question how it was able to encapsulate such an authentic level of transcendence from a filmmaking perspective, but what it principally nails is a juxtaposition to the issues plaguing them. We understand why the three of them love to skateboard, but we also understand what they often tend to use it for.
There are disturbing truths that go beyond the telling of three men’s passion for skateboarding, as their traumatic histories of abuse slowly emanate into the film’s driving force. Liu explores these recollections with great sensitivity, as his personal investment never undermines his honesty even if it involves revealing fallible actions. Keire is patently conflicted by the memory of his father; he was a man whose means of discipline were inadmissible, but in the same regard, Keire is grief-stricken by his passing. For his part, Liu revisits his childhood with a violent alcoholic stepfather which effectively deteriorated his relationship to his mother. How these admissions are captured never boarder towards interjection in pursuit of a goal, and that is part of what makes the film so impressive.
The film imbues compassion to these imperfect people moulded by their situations, and the film conveys these weighty themes with great emotional delicacy.
Even in the present, in which the notion of abuse has seeped into the forms of despair that trouble the three men today, the camera effectively knows to listen rather than to try and force a meaning. It paints a devastating portrait that is strengthened by its awareness of when to elicit and when to eliminate judgement. Alternatively, the film imbues compassion to these imperfect people moulded by their situations, and the film conveys these weighty themes with great emotional delicacy.
Above all else, ‘Minding The Gap’ certifies Bing Liu as a master documentarian. Cliché as it may sound, the film plays as a story he was destined to tell before moving on to grander projects. The film illuminates the appeal of documentary filmmaking, as the hardships portrayed are able to showcase a side of American life with such authenticity, the film also captures something at the centre of the human condition. Life doesn’t grant us control and we have to deal with the regret and resentment destined to follow us. What the film is able to showcase emotionally and morally without having to fashion subjects into archetypes is remarkably achieved, showcasing a sense of resonance only the finest documentaries are able to produce. Liu has constructed this film to near perfection, and has achieved something astounding as a result.