According to national statistics, on average someone is abused by their domestic partner every nine seconds. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.
These are not words I expected to be saying when I first started watching the new documentary Minding the Gap. As far as I knew, the movie was just getting good buzz and looked like it was about some kids with their skateboards.
And it is about some kids with their skateboards. The director, Bing Liu, apparently started shooting video of himself and his friends skateboarding when they were in their early teens, and continued to do so over the next decade even as he became a cameraman in Hollywood. And the contemporary footage of Liu and his friends skateboarding is absolutely gorgeous, with the camera floating along as they glide down streets and through parking lots, dodging obstacles and sliding down handrails.
But my goodness, there is so much more here. The documentary takes place in Rockford, Illinois, which some of you may remember as being the hometown of Wichita State basketball star Fred Van Vleet, and a city that seems to be routinely described as a place almost no one escapes. Bing Liu grew up here, and obviously did get out, but he returns to look at two of his friends as they try to figure out what they’re doing with their lives. They’re still skateboarding, of course, but what begins to seep into the movie, and eventually engulfs the entire thing, is an awareness of the cycle of abuse — child abuse, domestic partner abuse — and how it permeates all of their lives and guides their attitudes and behavior.
At some point, Liu makes the brilliant and necessary move of turning himself into one of the subjects of his film and we see how essentially no one goes untouched by abuse in this story. But we also see a glimmer of hope: Liu is exceptionally self-aware — he understands what has happened in his life, and in the lives of his friends, and we see that, maybe, there is a way out.
Minding the Gap is difficult, urgent, and vital, and is as essential as any movie you’ll see this year.