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Five Cent Cine At Home: Minding the Gap

Skateboard family

Skateboarding is the ostensible theme of this award-winning documentary by first-time director Bing Liu. And while the skateboarding scenes are thrilling and exhilarating (even scary), that’s hardly the entire story here.

Liu began filming his skateboarder friends 12 years earlier in economically depressed Rockford, Illinois.

Liu began filming his skateboarder friends 12 years earlier in economically depressed Rockford, Illinois. There’s Zack, a 23 year-old slacker who’s just gotten his girlfriend Nina pregnant; Keire, a black 11 year-old; and Liu himself, a Chinese-American, all outsiders of a sort, who’ve rejected or have been rejected by their families and traditional high school cliques. The three consider themselves a family, and to some extent they are, but these young men – apart from their love of skateboarding – have very different lives and goals.

What Liu films in the end is a tale of domestic abuse, particularly his own – from a stepfather and his passive, enabling mother, also abused by her husband, as well as a stepbrother who bites his tongue. There are hints that Keire’s mother may have an abusive boyfriend. The domestic abuse unfolds at first from Liu’s real-time filming of Zack and his girlfriend, now young parents, as well as interviews with them. An interview with Liu’s mother is the emotional heart of the film. He’s unfearing in his questions of her, until he finally shrinks from his own camera.

“Minding the Gap,” nominated for an Oscar and winner of more than 50 awards, is raw, in both its emotions and its filming. It’s the work of an inexperienced filmmaker, especially at the beginning of his 12-year process in making the documentary. Yet that rawness is also a strength. Liu and co-editor Joshua Altman deserve praise for understanding in the end what all Liu’s footage—including his skateboard footage–was about: the pleasures of speed and risk, to be sure, but also the bond of friendship and, above all, the flight from the emotional toll of rejection and abuse.

Date: 2018

Director: Bing Liu

Starring: Kiere Johnson, Bing Liu, Zack Mulligan (as themselves).

Oscars: Nominated for Best Documentary Feature

Runtime: 93 minutes

Minding the Gap ★★★ ½ (out of 4 stars)

Availability: Streaming Hulu and PBS (the latter, free, BUT AVAILABLE ONLY IN SOME PBS LOCATIONS); see JustWatch here.​

Photo: HULU

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Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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