I’m not a big fan of the skateboarding scene and when I heard this documentary was one of the five Oscar nominees, I knew I had to watch, but I wasn’t planning on getting into it much. But wow! Yes, it is set in the skateboard dude world, but it’s more than that. It’s a coming of age story of three boys/men in the depressing town of Rockford, Illinois, where skateboarding is the only good thing they have in their lives. Bing Liu is the filmmaker and one of the three. He started out just shooting for the fun of doing skate videos for YouTube, but found the stories of his two best friends resonated with his own and continued for more than a decade, ending up with a sobering take on toxic masculinity and its effect on sons. It’s not easy to watch, but it is an amazing film.

Kiere and Zack are Bing’s buddies. And they allow him into their lives more and more through the film. At first he’s just filming their skateboarding, but soon he’s in their homes, witnessing personal dynamics and asking questions of their families. They open up to him. And then he turns the lens on his own family, on the abusive stepfather that his mother enabled. The women in the film have accepted that men are just violent, and the young men grapple with what that means for them. Zack has a baby with his girlfriend and has a really hard time stepping up. Kiere is tepidly asserting his independence, but then his Dad dies and it wounds him to the core. You feel you know these young men by the end, and you can’t help but hope they succeed in their lives and grow beyond the structures in which they were raised. It’s a sad but extremely powerful film that should be seen widely.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I made a point to catch this doc on PBS (as part of its POV series) so I could be ‘in the know’ before the Oscars telecast. I liked it a lot. I’m still bitter that “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” somehow didn’t make the cut for Best Doc, but I was pleasantly surprised by Minding the Gap. It’s amazing that the filmmaker was able to track the story and characters over so much time while still delivering a finished product that runs about 90 minutes. It was smart to use the growth of Zack’s kid as a benchmark. The skateboarding scenes are impressive to watch, though only make up a small percentage of the film because ultimately it’s about friendship, manhood and stepping up (or not). An interesting watch indeed – and easily accessible via PBS (and PBS.org) and Hulu. -hb]

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