Minding the Gap
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…an astonishingly emotional documentary.
In the opening of Minding the Gap, we meet Keire and Zack, two young men living in Rockford, Illinois. Along with the film’s director, Bing Liu – who also happens to be their best friend of over a decade – they trespass into a building looking for a cool place to skate. When Zack admits that he has lost his bottle, the other friends agree that their pursuit for a new place to skate is foolhardy and they all merrily skate away. This opening scene provides a succinct introduction to the friendship these three men have. Zack is never berated for his ‘cowardice’ or seen to be less ‘masculine’ than his cohorts. They’re either in this together, tackling what life has in store for them, or they’re out.
Liu’s documentary follows Keire and Zack as they reconcile who they are, with who they want to be, and where they’ve come from. Zack is expecting his first child and appears to be completely unprepared. Still in his early 20s, his main pursuits appear to be beer and setting up an indoor skate park. Keire, meanwhile, is a fiercely talented skater, who doesn’t appear to have the motivation to do much else. From the get-go, skateboarding is seen as an escape from their broken homes and life commitments, but there is so much more to it than that.
Minding the Gap is an astonishingly emotional documentary that works not only as a portrait of rustbelt America, but one which also places friendship and masculinity under the microscope. Both Zack and Keire make covert references to being hit by their parents, where not even the close relationship they share with the director allows them to be too open. This is brought into sharp relief when Liu decides to interview his mother about the domestic violence they’ve lived with, and Zack’s own abusive tendencies rise to the surface after a particularly brutal fight with his girlfriend.
In both instances, we see the director becoming part of the narrative and, as a result, discovering new parts about himself along the way. As Liu interviews his mother, the camera switches to him as he tries to comprehend why someone he loves so much would stay with someone so violent for so long. It’s a heartbreaking sequence which makes Liu’s confrontation with Zack all the more potent. Interestingly, Zack is never portrayed as the documentary’s villain, but neither is he shown to be wholly innocent. His actions and beliefs are shaped by the abuse that he shrugs off consistently. These sequences will likely not settle well with some and that’s understandable; Liu doesn’t appear to want them to.
For Keire, the time spent with him sees the young skater having his eyes opened about race in America, and how he identifies as a black man. Initially portrayed as the wide-eyed innocent of the group, where his need to be liked by everyone means he’ll stay quiet rather than cause a fuss. A particular toe-curling sequence sees Keire looking increasingly uncomfortable as his friends laugh at a comedy routine peppered with racial expletives.
In both men, Liu dismantles who they are without it ever feeling intrusive. Perhaps, this is down to the close proximity they share, and Liu wouldn’t have got the same result without the trust his two subjects have in him.
Regardless, Minding the Gap is a stunning debut that manages to be clinical and frank in its approach to domestic violence, whilst maintaining the feel of a heart-warming coming of age film. It’s going to be really fascinating to see what Liu goes on to do.