Bing Liu’s impressive debut documentary Minding the Gap hit me on a deep emotional level that I was not prepared for. Compiling a decade’s worth of footage of himself and his friends Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson skateboarding and hanging out in their city of Rockford, Illinois, Liu constructs a stunning portrait of the turbulent transition from adolescence to manhood.
To Liu and his friends, skateboarding was more than a passion, it was a form of escape. A temporary cure for the physical and emotional scars that the men in their lives have imparted on them. Similar to a runaway skateboard speeding recklessly down a hill, their lives lacked the guidance and positive support mechanisms to steer them towards maturity and stability.
For Zack this means struggling with the responsibilities that come with of having a child with girlfriend Nina. Keire must figure out how to navigate his entrenched anger, caused by his overbearing father, while facing the realities of being black in America. The introverted Liu use his camera as a buffer to help him come to terms with the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather.
Liu’s cinematography transcends the usual skateboarding footage showcased in other films. He manages to capture the recklessness of youth and the anxiety of uncertainty that overshadows them. This allows Minding the Gap to contemplate the notion of masculinity and the unhealthy expectations associated with it. Liu challenges us to not only reflect on how the sins of the father impact the next generation, but also how society forces young men into boxes they often don’t belong in.
Offering thought-provoking commentary on toxic masculinity, the ways violence against women is often ignored and the racial disparity in America, you won’t look at skateboarders the same way again.
Sunday, February 17, 5:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Just reviewed this myself and was really surprised at what it turned out to be. Glad to see the Academy give it some recognition (even if they completely missed the mark by omitting “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”).
While I enjoyed all the Academy nominated documentary features this year, Minding the Gap is my favourite of the bunch. I even prefer it over Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Mr. Rogers film, but it would be #5 if I had to rank my favourite docs of 2018.
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