Last year the outstanding documentary Three Identical Strangers offered an astonishing demonstration of how to gradually peel back the layers and reveal a story more and more, in a manner that many filmmakers working in fiction could well learn from. Feature documentaries, though, are thriving, and the latest example is Minding The Gap, an engrossing piece of work from movie directorial debutant Bing Liu. Unlike Three Identical Strangers, though, his film did get rewarded with an Academy Award nomination.
Liu is a young filmmaker, who’s always lived in an era where video cameras were commonplace. As such, in his teens, he started shooting footage of himself and his two friends – Keire and Zack – that charted their love of skateboarding. What that affords him, then, is a foundation from which to follow the trio over the next dozen years or so, as we gradually learn more and more about them. Skateboarding may have been the activity that put a smile on their faces, but each was, in their youth, hiding another side to their lives. As they each grow older the ramifications begin to be felt as their individual stories are slowly revealed.
There’s an inevitable parallel here with Richard Linklater‘s 2014 movie Boyhood, which was also filmed over the course of 12 years. But Boyhood was fiction, and what makes Minding The Gap all the more haunting and moving is that these are people’s actual lives. For Keire, there’s the difficulties he faced with the sudden loss of his father. Bing, meanwhile, has questions of his mother. And Zack’s story involves his on-off girlfriend and their young son. All around them, the town where they grew up changes too, and whilst the story is ostensibly one set in the heart of America, Liu’s film very much has universal qualities.
Skateboarding may have been the activity that put a smile on their faces, but each was hiding another side to their lives
Appreciating that he and his co-editor Joshua Altman must have had hundreds of hours of footage to wade through, high amongst the filmís list of achievements is just how smoothly the film flows as a piece of narrative storytelling. The time shifts feel seamless, the raw footage adding a feel of authenticity and a stark atmosphere. What’s more, the unfussy way that the film affords space, not just to the three young men at its heart, but those who affected them and in turn are affected by them, is really quite something. This is all then condensed into a running time that squeaks in under 100 minutes and flies by in what feels like half that.
Occasionally funny and profoundly moving, Minding The Gap feels all the more impactful because its roots look like they weren’t in a film at all – rather that Liu was looking to capture the camaraderie and the shared love of a hobby that started in boyhood, before life – as it does – got in the way. The doc’s getting quite a small release in the UK but it’s absolutely worth tracking down. I would recommend a double bill with Three Identical Strangers, but it’s perhaps best not to watch them on the same day.