A fascinating insight into the lives of three friends bonded by their mutual love & passion for skateboarding, Minding the Gap is an awe-inspiring coming-of-age story, a delicately layered social commentary, and an honest, gripping & unrelenting piece of documentary filmmaking; all rolled into one amusing, stirring & emotionally resonant essay. A passion project that’s 12 years in the making, the film explores race, class, friendship, manhood & domestic trauma with its self-reflexive narrative, and also marks an astonishing 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.
Set in Rockford, Illinois and filmed over a period of 12 years, Minding the Gap chronicles the lives & friendship of Keire Johnson, Zack Mulligan & Bing Liu; three young men who bond together to escape the volatile environments in their households and are united by their love of skateboarding. The film covers their struggle with growing up, the abuse in their past affecting their present, and how skateboarding became a therapeutic outlet for them over the years. While the turbulent upbringing and the childhood trauma resulting from that is a commonality they share, the narrative also dives into elements of systemic racism, economic dislocation & modern day masculinity in 21st century America through their individual lives while observing the gap between childhood & adulthood.
Directed, shot & edited by Bing Liu who is also one of the trio of figures this documentary primarily focuses on, the story opens on a whimsical & heartwarming note, providing an exquisite ode to skateboarding itself before heading into the darker aspects of their lives. Zack has got no choice but to grow up and start accepting adult responsibilities after the arrival of his first child with his girlfriend. It focuses on their tumultuous relationship as well which only deteriorates after the birth of their offspring. Then there is Keire who is thrust into adulthood after the death of his father and the camera films his struggle with his racial identity and his hesitancy in taking that big step of relocating to a better place. And Bing comes to terms with his own past in a one-on-one interview with his mother.
Compiling over 12 years of real-life footage, it’s amazing how masterly spliced & edited everything is in the final print, and how seamless the transitions are from one timeline to another. It’s a spectacularly shot film, utilising camera techniques & movements that are not only apt but also provide a sense of weight to the unfolding segment, plus those close-ups are especially well-timed. Editing is a definite stand out, for those intercutting footages, non-linear arrangement & numerous montages are carried out with precision, and it is at its most effective during the final scenes where footages from past & present coalesce into one, and all the stuffed up emotions & feelings of regret finally pour out on the lens. The background score also deserves a mention, for it evokes the right emotional chords at the right time despite contributing silently in the background.
Minding the Gap doesn’t shine light on some notable figure, is not about a landmark feat, doesn’t focus on an event of historic importance, or captures some incident that require our immediate attention. Instead, it is a stirring slice of three real-life friends and covers the transition they undergo in their journey from youth to adulthood. And through their lives, the director manages to address the bigger issues at hand, ones that resonate way beyond the primary subjects. In short, it’s a fantastic piece of storytelling; rich, evocative, devastating & cathartic in ways most coming-of-age films never manage to. A labour of love that paints a lush if bittersweet tapestry of life and portrays it without filters, Minding the Gap is one of the most rewarding offerings of its kind and certainly amongst the finest documentaries you can get your hands on. Truly deserving of a broader viewership, Bing Liu’s first attempt at filmmaking comes very highly recommended.