GoPro-style footage following skateboarders in action is a ubiquitous part of video culture, yet director Bing Liu somehow imbues such imagery with a transcendent glory in Minding the Gap. In the first-person documentary, Bing interviews two childhood friends—Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan—who lived their teen lives on skateboards but are now, as young men, struggling to adjust to the demands of adulthood. There is archive footage from their early days together, but the stunning stuff is from more recent years, where Bing employs a Glidecam so he can float behind them at head level as they swoop, swerve, spin, and crash.
It’s not only the camerawork, but also the context. As Minding the Gap unfolds and we learn more about their lives (as well as Bing’s), we understand that in addition to a love of skateboarding, the three share a history of childhood abuse. And so skateboarding was partly a natural impulse (“When you’re a kid, you just do—just act,” Zack says at one point) and partly a means of escape. You can feel this both in their movements (including the rage Keire expresses when he botches a move and stomps his board in two) and in their on-camera testimonies, which are movingly introspective and incredibly honest. These interview scenes become increasingly prickly, especially when Bing asks his mother about his childhood or questions Zack about the abuse he may be revisiting on the mother of his son. In a far more intimate and personal way, Minding the Gap belongs to the same documentary subgenre as The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. This is cinema of confrontation.
As one who has been wounded himself, Bing could have justifiably given his documentary an accusatory tone, but instead we have a project in search of understanding and healing. Minding the Gap ends with a montage of emotive moments that feels a bit stacked—it’s like a teaser trailer for itself—but who can blame Bing, given the personal connection he has with both the subjects and the subject matter, to hope for hope in the movie’s final moments? Minding the Gap honors the pain of these young men’s lives so fully, it earns the right to conclude with the equivalent of a perfectly executed flip—audacious, improbable, and liberating.