On DVD from Mon 29 Apr 2019
The interior lives of a trio of young skateboarders is probed with sensitivity in Bing Liu’s Oscar-nominated documentary Minding The Gap. Through the eminently skateable streets of the rust-belt city of Rockford, Illinois, Liu presents a portrait of two young men – charismatic slacker Zack and outwardly jovial Keire – with whom he finds freedom and friendship through skateboarding. The film kicks into gear, however, when Liu discovers they have more than just skateboarding in common. The director consequently inserts himself into the film and the narrative dovetails into a more confrontational examination of a shared legacy of domestic abuse.
As they all approach ‘manhood’ in different ways, a startlingly intimate account of the psychological head space of young men emerges. Skateboarding has offered them all an opportunity to exert control over their chaotic home lives but as they reckon with impending responsibility, it is clear they need to make sense of what they have been through. The journey is complicated by the discovery that cycles of abuse are passing down to the younger generation. Given the psychological trauma inflicted by their own fathers and step-fathers, this disturbing revelation forces Liu to ask some difficult questions of his friends.
The authenticity of this highly engaging documentary stems from the apparent closeness the three friends display, having bonded through skateboarding at a young age. It is somewhat strange to discover through the DVD’s short extras that Liu befriended Zack and Keire not in childhood but through the course of embarking on a skateboarding doc, before zeroing in on the stories that provide the film with its narrative arc. If that fact muddies the filmmaker’s objectives slightly, there is still a convincing authenticity to his portrayal of each character in early adulthood as they process their difficult pasts whilst confronting uncertain futures.
This is most affecting in a brave climactic scene in which Liu persuades his own estranged mother to discuss her inability to protect her son. This emotional confrontation highlights the film’s key theme: Minding The Gap is referencing not just the ‘gap’ between childhood and adulthood, but also between children and their parents.