Director Bing Liu with Full Frame Festival 2018 Student Fellows Sunshine Yang and Amelia Tyson.

Director Bing Liu with Full Frame Festival 2018 Student Fellows Sunshine Yang and Amelia Tyson.

What do you do when you find that what your friend is doing is questionable? Or when you really want to help them with but don’t know how to? In Minding the Gap, director Bing Liu brings his camera into the lives of friends to figure this out. The film highlights the struggles between three young men, one of whom is Liu as he breaks the third wall of filmmaking. Located in Chicago, Illinois, we first see these young teenagers bond with skateboarding and grow together as they rely on each other for personal and raw issues. We also get the sense that without each other’s friendship and the skateboarding community, they would likely not have survived their struggles.

The two main friends in Liu’s world are Kiere and Zach, along with other minor but equally important characters like Zach’s “baby mama”, Nina, Liu’s mother and half-brother, and Keire’s mother. When his father, dies Kiere reveals to the camera with sobbing tears that he regrets that he had moved out after a heated argument and that his last words to his father were out of hurt and anger. He also reflects back to moments of anger tantrums in his life and how that relates back to abusive treatment from his father. Keire describes how his family worries about him because he is the only African American in his circle of friends. We see him make friends outside of the main group, but in the end, his heart and loyalty remain with Liu, Zach and the skateboarding community.

Liu reveals throughout the film his own story about his stepfather physically abusing him, his brother and mother. During an interview with his mother, he reveals to her the first time that his stepfather beat him. There were two cameras used during this scene: One held by Liu, pointing at his mother and one pointed at Liu as he questions why she stayed with him knowing the kind of man he was and how he had treated her children. She could not give him an answer, but tearfully and emotionally apologized for not being strong enough to protect him. We see Liu’s face as he reacts to this apology and finally when he says, “cut” to stop the video recording.

Zach’s story is documented by Liu as it is happening, unlike Liu’s and Kiere’s stories about abusive fathers that happened in the past. The film starts with Zach’s girlfriend, Nina, giving birth to their son. They became parents in their early 20’s. Woven throughout the documentary, we experience both Zach and Nina’s take on parenthood and their sacrifices for each other as they struggle to make it work between them as well as for their son. We also see the early developing signs of physical abuse Zach inflicts on Nina as these struggles progress. Later, in an interview atop a hill overlooking the city of Denver, Colorado, he explains why he could not control his physical actions towards Nina. He also expresses in shameful tears why he thinks it would be better if he stays away from her and his son because he believes he is a “bad influence”. He was also fearful of the possibility that his son may grow up to be like him.

All three stories tie in with each other and we slowly see the reveal through Liu’s lens as he captures these raw, human lives. They reveal the key elements of how a physical abuse relationship formulates and Bing finds the answer his mother was not able to give him during his interview.

Liu’s film about an unbreakable relationship with friends earned him two awards at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina. One for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature and an honorable mention for the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award. He also earned a standing ovation after the film, one that I was honored to be part of.