2018 had two narrative movies that featured skateboarding and the bond that the sport offered those involved; Mid90s and Skate Kitchen. Both of these films featured a character who operated a video camera whose sole purpose within the group was capturing the various tricks and stunts their friends performed, often while riding on their own board. Minding the Gap (2018) is a documentary that lets the camera operator character become the storyteller, and Bing Liu has quite the story to share.
Minding the Gap starts off about skateboarding, but turns in to a great human story
Liu was abused by his step-father, and found a surrogate family while skateboarding. Kiere Johnson and Zack Mulligan are the two that he chooses to showcase, as they are close friends who also had their own troubles at home. The documentary spans quite a long time, and revelations about their past become the true story – and the values of family shift with the passage of time.
This film is unbelievably candid, and allows for some very intimate moments for each of the characters. There may have been the intention to just showcase how cool the guys were and how awesome being a skateboarder can be, but that is not what the movie ends up being. Liu even has an interview with his mother where he inquires about the extent she was aware of the abuse he suffered. The conversation is a tough one, but it really dives into the issues that the three boys all suffered from.
Kiere’s story is the most tragic and inspiring. He escaped his abusive father by moving in with his mother, but his dad’s passing made him recontextualize their relationship. Watching the boys grow allows us to see them work through many of these issues and try to come to terms with their decisions of the past. Kiere has a hopefulness about him that the other two guys never really exhibit. Yet, he also addresses the issues with race that his dad always pointed out to him, being the black guy in the group of predominately white friends. He is very open to discussing it, and there are times where you see him trying to be okay with some of the stuff going on around him that is clearly making him uncomfortable.
Zack’s story is by far the most frustrating to the audience and to Liu. He has a pregnant girlfriend early in the documentary, and the two sound very hopeful about their future. We get to see the child and the relationship over the course of several years, but those observations aren’t all positive. Liu witnesses things that make him question his connection to Zack. Zack seems to be aware that his story isn’t painting the best picture of him, but also seems content with letting the audience see the real person the camera is pointed at.
Minding the Gap doesn’t try to say anything controversial. It is a true insight into the individuals involved who work through some extremely tough times. In its simplicity is a great inspiration, as we see that there is room for growth and hope, even in the darkest of scenarios. Family matters and how that family is constructed may change with time. Liu has given such an honest look into his world that it’s hard not to respect it. Minding the Gap earns the Must See rating.