Minding the Gap follows a group of friends growing up in the Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois.
The skateboarding documentary is a product of filmmaker Bing Liu’s own childhood. The skating sequences have a credibility to them strictly reserved for creators who have lived what they portray. It’s too genuine to be a presentation of an environment. Rather, Liu gives us the privilege of peering into his world. Minding the Gap has all of the skate culture clout that makes you feel sick when you watch Kids, but doesn’t let audiences dodge the class conflict that is the bedrock of the sport bystanders love to romanticize. Their homelife traumas, filled with absent fathers and accidental children, are at the forefront of the story. As they should be. So often youth cultures like skating are shown through rose-colored glasses. It’s so easy to make sick shit look sick. They’re hot guys wearing clothes that will become trends doing the magic of ballerinas on thirty inches of plywood that could split their heads open at any second. But to capitalize on its sexiness without addressing the societal cracks that bring them to the park is a disservice to the sport.
By showing the ugliness Liu makes the escape that much more beautiful.
Not only does Liu’s relationship with his subjects invite material accomplished filmmakers spend their careers searching for, but the conversations breed a tangible process of growth for the men. Their discussions of mental illness and participation in the same cycles of abuse we watched them condemn minutes before are heartbreaking and necessary all at once. Watching their process of self-discovery is beautiful both within the narrative and a lesson on the greater power of storytelling.