Alongside this year’s Mid90s and Skate Kitchen, Minding the Gap is another film that focuses on skateboarding, and how its street-life subculture can provide release from claustrophobic, and abusive, homes. As one subject notes, given their chaotic homelife, skating grants them complete control of their movements and terrain. Bing Liu’s poignant documentary primarily follows three young men, the cheeky slacker Zack, sweet and lanky Kiere, and Bing himself, beautifully tracking their fluid skating along the streets, before seamlessly gliding into their childhood traumas, and their upcoming futures.
The documentary depicts highs as well as lows, obstacles only providing momentum and appreciation towards victories. Whether it be as minor as Kiere’s promotion from dishwasher to waiter, or Zack perfecting a skate-trick, their ‘new family’ is so supportive and overjoyed the enthusiasm is infectious. Such moments are wonderfully captured by Bing’s direction, collaging many moments across vast periods to capture the skating’s liberation, while being intimate and unflinching in personal footage, even when things become messy.
As while Minding the Gap is heart-warming it’s also uncompromising; moments of skater’s intense outrage when they fail a trick are as affecting as their triumphs, given it stems from deeper-rooted frustrations. The film gently peels away this community’s wholesome façade to spotlight the individual traumas underneath. Domestic violence is shown to be a pervasive occurrence. In a heart-wrenchingly raw interview with Bing’s own mother, Mengyue, she confesses after witnessing her own parents’ violence she vowed to never get married. But this was a promise she couldn’t keep. Wracked with guilt over her husband’s abuse, she admits, “I didn’t want to be alone”.
These absent, abusive father-figures are easily condemnable, but it becomes complicated when Zack is also implicated. You can feel Bing’s struggle to reconcile his friend with his actions, and Minding the Gap doesn’t provide easy solutions or firm judgements, rather allowing each individual to present their own messy emotions. Kiere once states that, sometimes, “Skating hurts me”, before adding “But so did my dad. And I loved him”.
Love is what really emanates from Minding the Gap, love for the survivors of the abuse and love for the skating subculture that brought them together. Sympathy for all, without necessarily excusing their actions. It’s a delicate line, which the film might wobble upon, but never falls off. Although by its end, Minding the Gap has strayed quite far from its skating focus, the wonderful and emotional journey is absolutely worth it. The world is not a skatepark, and the documentary stresses the importance of reality’s responsibilities, but when on their boards, these young men can briefly escape from their lives, from their pasts. They can navigate all obstacles, untethered from expectations, from anxiety, and from friction itself.