Review: ‘Minding the Gap’

Hot Docs 2018

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3 mins read

Minding the Gap
USA, 93 minutes
Dir. Bing Liu
World Showcase (Canadian Premiere)

Minding the Gap is one of those films that seems to discover its purpose as it rolls along. What appears to start out as a skateboarding documentary progresses, over the course of several years, into a probing examination of heartland America and its troubled masculinity and race issues. Set in Rockford, a northern Illinois city of about 150,000 with a higher-than-average unemployment, this first-person documentary follows three youths in their transition to adulthood.

Zack, a white kid who works as a part-time roofer, is a charismatic, Peter Pan figure, determined never to get old and boring. Keire, is a sensitive African-American teen whose skateboard is inscribed with the phrase “This device cures heartache.” Liu is a Chinese-American cameraman, who has always shot the trio’s skateboard stunts and tracked them as they zoomed through Rockford’s half-empty streets. Each of them left home early because of friction with their fathers or stepfathers. They regard their skate-boarding crew as “more family than family.”

When Zack, 23, and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Nina have a baby, they both chafe at the responsibility. The relationship becomes rocky, with drinking, physical violence and then separation. When Keire’s father dies, he begins to appreciate his father’s rough discipline and warnings about being black in America: Shortly after he gets his first car, he gets a cop’s gun pointed at him. And director Bing Liu, in an awkward scene, sets up his camera in his family’s living room to asks his distraught immigrant mother why she stayed with his abusive stepfather so long.

Minding the Gap was executive-produced by Hoop Dreams director Steve James and it shares James’ ability to place the individuals’ aspirations against a hardscrabble socio-economic background. Liu, who demonstrates he’s as good an action cinematographer as he is a gutsy interviewer, is a talent to watch. Unless he makes a Minding the Gap sequel, he won’t find another subject this personal. In one scene, Zack looks at the camera and asks what kind of scene they’re shooting: “The one where I pretend you’re not there or the other kind?”

Minding the Gap screens:
-Wed, May 2 at 8:15 PM at Scotiabank
-Thurs, May 3 at 3:30 PM at TIFF Lightbox
-Sun, May 6 at 6:15 PM at TIFF Lightbox

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for Original-Cin.ca and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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