Minding the Gap begins by opaquely tracing the lives of three skateboarding high schoolers — including the film’s director, Bing Liu — in their economically diminished hometown. Liu staves off any threat of tedium in this opening section by forgoing typical onscreen skateboarding action shots in favor of serene, balletic sequences of boarders gliding down city streets, doubling down on rough beauty with handheld shots that wend through and around the action. Liu’s mélange of thematic concerns – which confront the toxic relationship between self-doubt and self-improvement, the cyclical nature of destructive tendencies, the unknowability of the self without social contextualization, and the enervating effects of economic decay – organize themselves near the twenty-minute mark, and inform what becomes one of the most emotionally visceral, organically expressed examples of documentary filmmaking this decade.
Broadly, documentaries can be dichotomized into works that necessitate a visual medium and works that don’t. Minding the Gap lands emphatically in the former category, as the experience of watching its young subjects speak for and about themselves, over the many years that filming took place, evinces the emotional and psychological contradictions of self-reflection that exert their influence on this formative phase of life. Liu’s film, then, becomes a deeply personal catharsis, as well as a socioeconomically poignant portrait of the effects of post-industrialism on a community.
Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2018 | Dispatch 2.