Minding the Gap

 

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An American film which justifies Philip Larkin's famous line about families.

 
Minding the Gap

  

The unusual nature of this documentary is a reflection of the unorthodox way in which it came about. The filmmaker, Bing Liu, was born in China but grew up in Rockford, Illinois, from the age of eight. As a teenager, his enthusiasm for skateboarding brought him into the company of two youths who would become his friends, a black kid, Keire Johnson, and the virtual leader of the pack, Zack Mulligan. Before long Bing was informally filming them (some of those videos find a place in the film), but it was quite some time before he set out to create a proper movie. Even then the idea was to focus on skateboarding but, having moved to Chicago as a young man, Bing became increasingly aware of the extent to which skateboarders whom he  interviewed were talking about problems of upbringing in general and of unsatisfactory fathers in particular. Since these issues affected Keire and Zack as well as Bing himself, the film that resulted when Bing returned to Rockford became a documentary portraying skateboarding as a form of escape but having at its heart dysfunctional families.

 

That Minding the Gap was the end result of a process that gave it a character quite different from the original intent has led to a film slightly off kilter as it tells three stories at once moving between Keire, Zack and Bing. But, as we learn more about the background stories of these friends and observe their current unease (the film's title seems to refer to the gap between adolescence and adulthood and these are young men who sense the one phase passing before they are ready for the next one), we appreciate how much the trio have in common. However, if race issues affect Keire at times, that has never been relevant in their long-lasting friendship.

 

Ultimately, the main difference between these friends is linked to the extent to which they are able to break with the past and find a purpose in life. For Bing, it is achieved through being a filmmaker, while in Keire's case he manages to come to terms with the abusive side of his late father and to move on to a new life in Denver. Zack, however, becomes a father far too soon and this makes his relationship with his girl, Nina, increasingly difficult. The negative portrait we get of him does make one wonder if the film is not too intrusive at times (the same applies to scenes of Bing making his mother talk on camera about his violent father and about the step-father who was hardly more satisfactory). However, approval was presumably given and, perhaps because of the long-term bond between the filmmaker and his subjects, there is a very strong sense of authenticity here (that extends to constant strong language which may well have influenced the 15 certificate). Despite some element of hope, Minding the Gap is first and foremost a devastating illustration of how bad relationships infect the generations that follow. One does sense that Bing Liu has a future in cinema which might develop beyond documentaries (his eye as director, photographer and editor is striking) yet overall the downbeat flavour of the film is what dominates: not for nothing does it play out to a song that declares "I'm going to make it through this year even if it kills me".

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Zack Mulligan, Keire Johnson, Bing Liu, Mengyue Bolen, Kent Abernathy, Nina Bowgren.

 

Dir Bing Liu, Pro Diane Quon and Bing Liu, Ph Bing Liu, Ed Joshua Altman and Bing Liu, Music Nathan Halpern and Chris Ruggiero.

 

Kartemquin Educational Films/Minding the Gap LLC/American Independent|POV and Independent Television Service (ITVS)-Dogwoof.
93 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 22 March 2019. Cert. 15.