Sundance 2018: 'Minding the Gap' is Honest Storytelling at its Finest
by Alex Billington
January 28, 2018
There is one documentary from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival that has stuck with me and remained on my mind throughout the entire fest - Minding the Gap. I first saw this film at the very beginning of the festival just before it kicked off, and I've honestly been thinking about it ever since - even after seeing 38 other films. Minding the Gap is an incredibly compelling documentary made by filmmaker Bing Liu telling a personal story of his life and the lives of two of his close friends from the small town of Rockford, Illinois. This profile of "lost youth" follows them through the years as they grow up and enter adulthood, examining who they are and figuring out where they're headed, sometimes without any answers. Bing is the real deal, and he has made one of the most refreshingly original, engaging docs about growing up in today's America.
Minding the Gap introduces us to three main "characters" who are also good friends: Keire Johnson, Zack Mulligan, and Bing Liu (the director and the film's primary camera man). The three are skateboarders and the film opens with slick footage of them riding around town. Later on, we learn that skateboarding not only bonds them, but it's what keeps them happy and sane and driven to keep moving forward in life. It is so vitally important to to them. There's a segment in the middle of the film where Keire breaks down and we see a montage of footage of him skating and finding happiness again. It's incredible. As the film continues, there's a moment where everything changes when we learn these three friends share common ground in the way they were raised - and it's a harrowing reveal. But they do their best to keep on striving, while trying to stay positive, and continue living their lives, even though they eventually start to head down different paths.
It's hard to explain in words, but there's just something about the filmmaking in this, perhaps because it is so honest and shot with such a steady hand, that reached deep within my soul. I'm not similar to these three guys at all, but I feel like I could be friends with them. Keire in particular felt like someone I already knew my whole life, and we could be best friends. The footage of him is so open and personal and truthful it's easy to understand him and see exactly who he is. This kind of honest documentary filmmaking is challenging, but so endearing because it allows us to feel connected to the subjects. It shows how human they are, flaws and all, and how they just want to live a good life - even if they get to decide what that means. Giving us a look at the strenuous lives of these kids, and presenting it in an engrossing way cinematically with a lovely score by Nathan Halpern & Chris Ruggiero is exactly why the doc has remained on my mind for so long.
It also helps that the cinematography in Minding the Gap is outstanding, thanks in part because Bing has been shooting skateboarding videos with his friends since he was very young. The shots are so smooth, and they capture the vibe of their city and the sense of location so perfectly. All of this is important because it makes us feel a part of their world, which is only the backdrop for the more meaningful story about how these three deal with their identity and their past and with growing up. At one point, Bing asks Keire about how this film has changed him and he says it's almost like free therapy, which is a remarkable admission. Later there's a shot where Bing himself is behind the camera interviewing his mom, and he breaks down in tears after she confronts him about what he's doing. I'm impressed that Bing decided to include this shot, showing that he values the importance of honesty in telling these stories and making a sincere documentary.
As much as this film impressed me, I hope others take a chance to see it, experience it, and learn something from it as well. I can't promise everyone will love it, but I hope others are able to see what I see in it. I hope everyone can appreciate all that Bing Liu has achieved with Minding the Gap, and cherish it as a worthwhile examination of American youth, highlighting the importance of skateboarding as personal expression, and the endless pursuit of living a good life. There's so many lessons we can learn from such honest storytelling.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing