Longitudinal in its ambitions, Bing Liu's doc Minding the Gap follows the lives of three close friends, all skaters in the depressed Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois. The trio have known each other since they were little kids. None of them have good relationships with their families; indeed, they say early on that they formed their own family together -- "to look out for each other, because no one else was looking out for us."
Though it’s been assembled from all types of footage over many years, Minding the Gap is visually mesmerizing, and the fact that the director belongs to this subculture turns the film’s style into a kind of philosophical stance. The film is filled with lengthy, sensuous skateboarding scenes, which feel meditative, therapeutic; we sense that these kids skated not because it was fun, but because it helped them to survive.
As the film wears on, the sense of family and belonging depicted earlier starts to dissipate. And as the years pass, the picture begins to question some of the trio’s own notions of self-knowledge. Each of their families has suffered from some form of domestic abuse -- from casual beatings to far more sinister acts. And none of the boys has ever really reckoned with this dark reality in their lives. They have escaped through skating and friendship -- but that kind of avoidance merely kicks the can down the road. Minding the Gap is the work of a filmmaker willing to acknowledge that sometimes seeing better, seeing differently, is more important than understanding.