Aug 30, 2018
Welcome back to Documentary Thursdays! Today’s documentary covers the life of suburban/small city residents, their victories, and their failures. If you are interested in similar documentaries, but with a much darker tone, check out “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about his Father” (Episode #095), “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” (Episode #144), and “Recovery Boys” (Episode #186). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Minding The Gap“ (2018), the documentary written and directed by Bing Liu. The film collects twelve years of footage from the life of Bing Liu and his friends in Rockford, IL, examining their early hopes and their latter challenges. While it begins with a look at skate culture, it transforms into a look at growing old in a changing world.
I grew up in a small farming and industrial town southeast of Rockford, IL in the 1980s and 1990s. As a child, I went into the city with my uncle to see professional wrestling matches at the Metro Centre, getting something to eat at one of the many restaurants on the way there. As a teenager with a driver’s license and fast food income, I remember heading to Rockford with friends and co-workers, mostly for the malls and stores. My uncle lived there. My grandfather died there. And most of my mom’s side of the family still lives in that area. So, when I say that Rockford has never felt so real as when I watched this film, I say that knowing what Rockford was and what it is, and now, after seeing this film, what it could be.
Rockford, IL is definitely a troubled town, one that struggles with domestic abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, violent police officers, and latent racism – all driven by an economic bust that began when manufacturing fled overseas under Reagan, and continued spiraling further as big box corporations destroyed small businesses. Bing Liu acknowledges all these faults within the documentary, concerned not really with the causes, but the social and personal effects of the economic downturns over twelve years. Liu investigates his own life, and the lives of his skater friends Zach Mulligan and Kiere Johnson, to whom Liu relates in different ways, specifically around growing up in a household with domestic and child abuse as the norm for child-rearing, and in Zach’s case, how that treatment affects his own behaviors towards his son’s mother. It’s not an easy ride for any of them, but their stories are honest and real, showing their own strengths and flaws, and coming out the other side, if not redeemed, at least on the path, with the kind of hope that Rockford, as a whole, needs.
Bing Liu has a natural talent for documentaries, especially with his debut feature film. Sure, he is intimately familiar and directly connected to the material, but he also maintains a surprising amount of emotional distance in his earlier footage. It’s an amazing blend of historic and new footage that weaves their stories together to tell a much larger story about their community, their challenges, and their opportunities. I never would have thought it possible to make a documentary about Rockford, IL, and yet, this film not only does that, but also gives hope for the city to chart a new course, if it can overcome its own social inertia, as each character has done in some form or fashion in this film.
“Minding The Gap“ (2018) is an excellent debut documentary feature about three friends struggling to grow up in Rockford, IL. Bing Liu crafts a loving documentary to make sense of his own life, his friends, and his hometown, despite having every reason not to. Fans of excellent documentaries, or folks who want to see a different side of Rockford, should definitely check out this film. And based on the critics, I suspect we’ll see this again come Oscar season.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% (CERTIFIED)
Metacritic: 93 (MUST SEE)
One Movie Punch: 9.6/10
“Minding The Gap“ (2018) is not rated and is currently streaming on Hulu.