Back when he was a young skateboarder filming his friends, director Bing Liu probably had no idea that he’d eventually use some of the footage he was shooting to make an Oscar-nominated documentary. Never mind a doc that, while grounded in skateboarding, would ultimately be about domestic violence and its impact on his and his friends’ lives.
Liu grew up in Rockford, Ill.—where approximately 25 to 30 percent of all crimes are domestic violence related. The film focuses on how he and his friends Kiere Johnson and Zack Mulligan bonded over skateboarding, while using the sport as a way to escape the violence and abuse they faced at home. While the doc uses footage Liu shot as a prepubescent kid, the main thrust of the film comes from what he shot more recently, as all three enter into adulthood. Johnson is working through his emotions toward his abusive father—who passed away prior to the doc being shot—and Mulligan and his girlfriend Nina become parents for the first time.
While you can still expect to see some sick tricks in Minding the Gap, that’s not really the point of the movie, and you shouldn’t go in expecting a ‘skate film.’ The subject matter is very heavy, and some of the most poignant scenes are when Liu interviews his mother and half-brother about his stepfather’s abuse. Rather than absenting himself from the film—or only having his subjects acknowledge him if he is on film—Liu talks to the people from behind the camera.
As his half-brother gives you a tour of the house they grew up in, he initially introduces Liu’s bedroom by saying “This used to be my brother’s room,” but Liu cuts into say “Why do you say my brother? You can address me.”
During the scene with his mother, his crew sets up a second camera to film his part of the conversation. When the conversation gets to be too much and Liu calls cut, the camera keeps rolling, catching his reaction.
There’s also a reveal in the film that significantly changes the way the audience—and presumably Liu—views one of the subjects. It’s an interesting moment, because from a documentary filmmaker’s perspective, it ultimately enriches the film, but from the perspective of a friend, or a decent human being, it’s awful. Liu’s approach is to be as transparent as possible about how he approaches the two individuals impacted by events, and how he discusses it with them.
While Minding the Gap is Liu’s directorial debut, he’s an experienced cinematographer, and the film is as well shot as it is emotionally intense.
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