I’ve been to Rockford, IL a handful of times in my life. It is not a glamorous place. Neither is McHenry, IL — where I grew up. You live in a bubble of small town existence. That might be why I was so desperate to leave, or maybe it was the memories that I’d be leaving behind. Whatever the reason, I can relate to wanting more.
That felt a bit like one of the themes of Bing Liu’s new documentary, Minding the Gap, which takes place in Rockford. The film focuses on Bing and two friends he’s known since adolescence, Zack and Keire. We are afforded a look into the intimate lives of these three that does not pull any punches.
Zack works as a roofer who is trying to get his GED so that he can provide for his newborn son and girlfriend, Nina. His parents divorced and he was subject to witnessing many an argument.
Keire lives at home with his mother and siblings. He lands a job as a dishwasher and is eventually able to purchase a car. A smile across his face most of the time, he speaks of his relationship with his late father being turbulent.
Bing lives behind the camera for most of the doc, but gives the audience glimpses behind the curtain of a tumultuous upbringing.
The three have one thing in common: skating.
Minding the Gap is not the first I’ve heard of troubled souls finding solace at a skate park. When someone has a given family that doesn’t really work out, they’ll often build their own from scratch. Feeling like an outcast has a habit of gravitating one towards others who feel similarly. The bonds formed in that time and place run deep.
Bing has created something extraordinary with this movie by remaining steadfast throughout the years, capturing so much of his life with Zack and Keire inside the lens of a camera. It’s profoundly touching to see them grow up and watch their lives unfold.
Happily, we’re able to follow Nina’s story as well. Her presence gives the film depth that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Mainly, my associations with skateboarding before I watched Minding the Gap were from one of my ex-boyfriends who used to drag me to the skate park on Friday nights to watch him and his friends try to break their necks all evening.
It’s nice to get some fresh perspective on something you once thought was a bit silly as much more extraordinary.
Difficult to watch at times, Minding the Gap is moving and life-affirming. There is something remarkable about a documentary that is capable of inviting you in and submerging you in the lives inside of that film. It would seem that to Director Bing Liu, film is as second-nature to him as skateboarding. It is an extension of who he is. And we are lucky for it.