‘Minding the Gap’: the doc of the year

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” is a standout in an already impressive year for documentaries, weaving together the stories of three young men passionate about skateboarding in Rockford, Illinois, over a period of several years.

Liu — both the filmmaker and an active player in the story — unfolds the different paths the three friends take, but focuses on the similarities that brought them together and magnetized them to the challenging, painful activity they love. 

“Minding the Gap” includes some of the best skateboarding sequences ever put on film. The camera glides smoothly with its characters down empty streets, through parking lots and up and down half-pipes, giving the viewer just a slice of the soaring ecstasy that keeps these skaters getting back up, no matter how intense the fall.

Though the skating sequences are executed brilliantly, the film is far more focused on the broken homes and shared traumatic experiences that led these men (children at the time) to seek solace at the skate park.

Liu fabulously bridges the gap (or, perhaps, minds it) between filmmaker and subject by establishing himself as both early on, even including some interactions where he clarifies from behind the camera that the person being filmed can address him as a person. 

Some of Liu’s moments as a participant are the most powerful. During a scene in which an important confrontation is taking place, Liu seems to almost hide behind the camera and lighting equipment, as if he wishes he could be a third-person observer instead of enduring the difficult emotional situation he finds himself in.

The film also manages to serve as a lens through which men view masculinity, responsibility and family as time goes by and the burdens in life become heavier. New paths are forged and then retreated, pivotal decisions are made for better and worse and independence is sought. It’s young adulthood in a nutshell, and for these characters who have not had the smoothest path in life, it’s tough (as it is for all of us).

One does not have to be a skater, or part of the skateboarding community, to enjoy this film. It is currently streaming on Hulu.

Status: Strongly Recommend

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

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