Last year at Full Frame, I saw a work-in-progress cut (something between a trailer and short) of Bing Liu’s film Minding the Gap. Liu had recently secured the Garret Scott grant and was about to jump into another year of production. I remember being surprised at how much the film moved me. I made a mental note to look out for it in the future.
When I saw that the final cut of Minding the Gap would debut at Full Frame this year, I jumped to grab a ticket. My memory of the film’s premise was a little sketchy, but it was easy to recall how deeply it had affected me. Waiting for the film to start in a jam-packed theater, I caught sight of the young director as he regarded the crowds of of people filing in. He looked nervous and happy. Bits of the film started coming back to me: Liu documents his best friends as they skateboard through the empty streets of their hometown; Liu interviews each of them at regular intervals throughout their adolescence and young adulthood. All of those shots and events were still in the film, but it had become something much more fleshed-out.
Minding the Gap bowled me over. To a large degree, the film is about male friendships and the idiosyncrasies that beset them. To paraphrase Liu, the film is about masculinity and vulnerability. This is a topic or an area of discussion whose representation in the media is rarely accurate or nuanced. Here, surprisingly, in his friend-group of boisterous, hard-drinking skateboarders, is where Liu finds a way to tease out a number of eloquent and tragic truths about the way males bond and communicate. As a cameraman and as an interviewer, Liu is calmly persistent in his questioning. His close relationship with his subjects, his two good friends, Zach and Kier, provides the kind of trust required for meaningful interviews. Liu uses that trust as a very ethical kind of leverage to get the kids talking in extremely candid ways in front of the camera.
Thinking about this film as a narrative doesn’t make sense. Minding the Gap is comprised of a series of points at which Liu, using expertly crafted cinematography and his Jedi-like inquiries, frames authentic emotional experience in his subjects and passes that along to us.
The film left me in tears. I was ecstatically overjoyed by triumphs. I was heartbroken in the face of crushing misfortune and callousness. Growing up as a male, I was conditioned (by parents? by friends?) to be expressive in many ways – music, art, etc – but no one really showed me the ropes in terms of emotional honesty. Watching this unassuming young filmmaker create emotional openness (in the last place on earth you’d expect to find it) felt like a huge release…..and then I just felt so proud of the filmmaker….and that made me cry, too.