(director: Bing Liu; cinematographer: Bing Liu; editor: Bing Liu/Joshua Altman; music: Nathan Halpern/Bing Liu; cast: Keire Johnson, Zack Mulligan, Bing Liu; Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Bing Liu/Diane Moy Quon; Hulu; 2018)

A gem.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Chinese-American Bing Liu in his debut directs a masterful feature documentary on manhood issues for young skateboarders in the small run-down rust-belt town of Rockford, Illinois (the director’s hometown). Bing charts for some 12 years the lives of himself and two of his friends dealing with inner demons, family issues, economic worries and growing up pains, and returns to visit his hometown to check on his friends as young adults. The inventive title is taken from the signs on the platforms of the London tube. This one is a gem. It’s a Hoop Dreams (1994) on skates. That was the film directed by Steve James, this film’s executive producer.

The white kid high school dropout, working as a roofer, Zack is floored when his girlfriend Nina gets pregnant. The black kid high school dropout, working as a dishwasher, Keire is anguished by the death of his father and the racial struggle he faces in white society. The third skater chronicled is Bing himself, the objective filmmaker, who interviews his mother about the family secrets of child abuse that he and his brother experienced by the stepfather who raised him since he was 8. In fact all 3 kids were beaten by their fathers as a matter of discipline. The narrative follows the trio through their formative years (Bing has kept recorded conversations with his pals) as they deal with the mean streets, their personal situations, their self-satisfaction with their growing skills as skateboarders (with amazing shots of them and himself in action that are filmed by Bing skating next to them) and their view of their friendship as equal to family. There’s no sentimental passes for the flawed boys, who are in a constant struggle to overcome all the bad breaks they had and the bleakness of their surroundings. Instead it serves as an honest look at how they are handling things, in a documentary that is highly personal and subjective. If this vibrant slice-of-life Americana film, so impressively executed, tells us anything at all–its that it’s possible to overcome a bad start in life and to become aware of yourself even if things don’t always seem to be working out for you.

At the Sundance Film Festival this past January, the film was awarded the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking.

Minding the Gap (2018)

REVIEWED ON 8/19/2018 GRADE: A-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/