Minding the Gap – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Bing Liu
Stars: Keire Johnson, Bing Liu, Zack Mulligan
Bing Liu has created a documentary about the lives of Zack, a Caucasian American, Keire Johnson, an African American and himself, a Chinese American. They found early in their upbringing a camaraderie in skateboarding which has provided a refuge away from the abusive male figures which dominated their lives at home. Through skateboarding, they create their own family and try to negotiate the challenges that each faces as they move into adulthood and its responsibilities. Their hometown is Rockford, Illinois which is part of the rust belt of the Mid West. Its economic vitality has long since drained away. The jobs which do exist are of the kind provided in fast food restaurants and the more menial aspects of the building trade. The attractions and excitement of skateboarding are plain to see.
Bing Liu was given a video camera at the age of twelve. Since that time, he has been shooting footage in Rockford of his mates and what was happening around them. What the film investigates are the behind the front door moments of the three friends’ lives. It is this reality which makes the film so unsettling. But the need to explain the background to each of these three young men’s lives creates a basis for understanding where they are now.
The early part of the film is dominated by them flashing around Rockford on their boards. Gradually, into the mix, Bing Liu introduces excerpts from their domestic lives, in particular, Zack and his girlfriend Nina. It is a tempestuous relationship which becomes more so with the arrival of a baby. Zack’s new parental responsibilities raise spectres of his own childhood and Bing Liu introduces items from the childhood pasts of all three friends. There is a common theme to all of them of a male violent figure. He goes further and interviews Keire’s mother and most remarkably his own mother about their less than satisfactory relationships with men. He even interviews Nina who has long since left Zack. In all of this he has to negotiate carefully the question of consent, especially in relation to Nina who is bringing up Zack’s child. This is a documentary about three young men facing into adulthood while they try to come to terms with their own traumatic domestic pasts.
Bing Liu is a young man of insight and intelligence with a cameraman’s eye for an image. The excitement of skateboarding and the down-at-heel atmosphere of Rockford are well captured. The scenes of the friends socializing together give further insights which tell their own story. It is a brave film made by a courageous young man who wants to show the story of two of his mates and himself without varnish. It is not a feel good movie but it is definitely a film worth seeing.