Minding the Gap
Director Bing Liu’s debut feature-length documentary is a strikingly perceptive and sad portrayal of lower-middle class life in the American Midwest, focusing on the lives of three young men.
The film’s layered technique provides a glimpse through the friends’ school days, their bond strengthening as their passion for skateboarding intensifies; this activity is not only a pastime, it is a creative and challenging outlet to get through the hardships of life in Rockford, Illinois, as they are taught to keep emotions at bay.
Taking his friendships with fellow pals Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson as a starting point, Liu presents a stark but real portrayal. Though the individual stories differ, they have some similarities like the men’s mutual love for skateboarding and experiences of domestic violence. Zack and his partner, Nina, have just had a baby, but things are far from rosy. Continually arguing over their freedom, the young couple battle with lifestyle changes; Zack weighs a life where he chooses to live liberally, against the responsibilities of fatherhood, struggling with alcoholism. Liu’s intimate direction inherently produces the feeling of being in the room; the viewer can’t help but pity the poor infant who is growing up in such a volatile environment.
Rockford’s unemployment rates are sky high and people yearn to escape. We see Keire, a young black man amongst predominantly white friends. His hard work and cheery demeanour is refreshing, he works first as a dishwasher in a fast-food restaurant, and eventually becoming a waiter. Though having had an unstable relationship with his father, Keire feels his death deeply; it is incredibly moving seeing him knelt in front of the gravestone, silently crying.
Liu also turns the camera on his own life. One acutely tender scene involves him interviewing his mother, where she realises the extent of her son’s difficult childhood, being beaten by his alcoholic stepfather. The utter sadness in her expression, and the regret she feels, provokes empathy from the viewer. Additionally, Keire’s mother is also briefly interviewed, but dislikes divulging personal details to the camera.
The documentary shines a light on male friendships, prevalent generational domestic violence and race in America, and the talented director listens to his participants without interjecting too much. This is an honest and sobering portrayal of life in a town with little opportunity, where repercussions of abuse are evident in the unhappiness of those affected.
Minding the Gap is released in select cinemas and on demand on 22nd March 2019.
Watch the trailer for Minding the Gap here: