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A Magazine for Sheffield

Minding The Gap

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The winner of the Audience Award at last year's Sheffield Doc/Fest, Minding The Gap is a stunning, heartfelt and candid chronicle of the early adulthood of three men living in Rockford, Illinois, who met each other while skateboarding to escape the troubles of home.

The skate sequences are shot by Liu, one of the film's subjects as well as its director, with the verve and exuberance of a promotional video, beautifully capturing his own love for the sport, as well as the attraction that its wandering and recklessness hold for the youth of America's rust belt. "This device cures heartache," reads a tag on the board of Liu's friend Keire Johnson, and to watch him glide through downtown Rockford is almost to feel it working.

But it's in his investigation of what Keire and his friend Zack Mulligan are trying to escape from that Liu's skill and sensitivity as a documentarian really come forward. What begins in the film as a series of sporadic, sinister references to hidden violence quickly grows to become a seemingly inescapable circuit of domestic abuse and generation-spanning trauma.

Liu understatedly shows how this circuit hooks up to the other circuits of racism and economic deprivation without losing a tender focus on the lives of his friends, and without seeking to excuse Zack when his behaviour is revealed to have been inexcusable.

The escape represented by skateboarding is never just a positive; it can also be a flight from responsibility. But as Liu says to Keire at one point, "I'm making this film because I saw myself in your story."

It's in its subjects' willingness to share themselves, good and bad, that the film finds its best cause for hope.

Next article in issue 134

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