“Minding the Gap” is an honest look at modern masculinity and generational wounding

This month Maryville College continued its seasonal partnership with the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, offering a showing of “Minding the Gap.”

The Oscar-nominated independent documentary was shown at the Clayton Center on Wednesday April 17 and follows filmmaker Bing Liu as he draws correlations between the childhoods of his two skateboarder friends’, Zack and Keire, and the pitfalls of modern-day masculinity.

Liu also explores his own traumatic childhood, dealing with an abusive step-dad throughout the film’s story. “Minding the Gap” follows its characters for 12 years in Rockford, Illinois. It captures 23-year-old Zack’s deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend, Nina, the mother of his child and 17-year-old Kiere’s coming to terms with his father’s death and his own racial identity.

Liu portrays the struggles his friends navigate during early adulthood in order to observe the muddled gap between adulthood and childhood. Produced by Kartemquin Films, “Minding the Gap” premiered at Sundance 2018, has been broadcast on PBS, was streamed on Hulu and opened at theaters in seven markets.

“Kartemquin has been around for over 53 years,” said executive producer Diane Quon. “We have always focused on social justice films that hopefully represent under-served communities that provide a voice to them and create change.”

While Liu’s film is mainly an exploration of the topics of masculinity and generational wounding rather than a call to action, “Minding the Gap” is a film of overwhelming importance. It brings to light controversial questions of legacy and toxic machismo without being preachy. The film enables the watcher to have their own opinions about manhood, race, and the responsibilities of fatherhood.

The deep social revelations of “Minding the Gap” are set off with a dive into skateboarding culture and a reflection on skateboarding as an expressive art. In the film, the bottom of Kiere’s board reads “This device cures heartbreak.”

The three main characters of the film, Zack, Kiere, and Bing, all use skateboarding as a means of escape from less than peaceful lives. Skateboarding functions as their mediation and Liu captures this Zen brilliantly by following the skaters, on foot or on another skateboard, as they are riding.

Furthermore, Liu’s camera is not partial to certain subjects, instead, he fully explores each featured individual’s perspective, making for an extremely nuanced viewing experience. For example, when Zack and Nina begin fighting due to Zack’s abusive tendencies and Nina’s neglect of responsibility, Liu does not pick sides. Instead, he gives an unbiased view on each perspective. In fact, all of the film’s main subjects were shown the film before release and none of them asked for their portrayal in the film to be changed aside from a small change for Nina.

“I think it says a lot about Bing’s film-making and being sensitive, but also I really love the main characters,” said Quon. “I really loved working with those guys and they are each so brave to share their lives with such a large audience. For them to be willing to participate in a film like this is, to me, really brave.”

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