There’s a moment in Minding the Gap when Zack Mulligan, one of the skateboarders featured in the documentary, and a friend of filmmaker Bing Liu, skates along a path holding his baby son. It’s a moment that made me tear up, because in the context of the film, it shows the beauty and tragedy of the documentary. It’s also a moment that so beautifully displays Liu’s talent as a filmmaker: potently capturing the gap between Zack as a son who stays young and naive, and Zack as a father who grows up and doesn’t want to relive the traditions bestowed down to him. It’s just one of the many layers to this incredible film that, on the surface, seems like an ode to skateboarding.
It’s about 3 friends who meet through a mutual love of skateboarding, and while there are some poetic scenes of them gliding on pipes, ledges and curbs in Rockford, Illinois, it’s the stuff around the skate-boarding — the reasons they do it, what it means to them individually and as friends — that give this film a heightened level of introspection and humanity. Bing Liu, the filmmaker, is so talented it’s breathtaking. So gifted in his way of weaving this story into a narrative that keeps you hooked and invested in the stories you’re seeing playing out on screen.
Story with commonalities of suffocating family patterns, of abuse, of being trapped in one’s circumstances, of life just being life. And more specifically, being a man trying not to repeat tropes of the past.
I am not a skateboarder, but I am a runner, and the sport is like running in that it’s not the how that gives it meaning, but the why. Why Liu skates. Why his younger friend Keire Robinson does too. And Zack, the third in their circle. The years of footage — some of it just home-videos, other professional set-up interviews — combine to create such a vivid portrait of life. Watching and listening to the interviews — of Keire talking about how despite the kind of beatings his late dad doled out to him being considered child abuse in today’s terms, he still adored him, of Bing’s mother trying to explain why she stayed with his abusive stepfather, of Zack not realizing his own misogynistic ways.
There’s another scene that hints at the filmmaker Liu is, and will hopefully continue to be, when Keire can’t find his father’s gravestone in the cemetery he is visiting. It’s devastating, but it brings us ever closer to understanding the nuance of his story — and of all the stories featured in the film — and for that, Minding the Gap is an empathetic and powerful film.