Bing Liu on Minding the Gap: 'It's an exploration of other people's journeys... growing up and escaping patterns'
credit: Emily Strong
Oscar nominated director discusses his skateboarding documentary ahead of its screening at The Human Rights Watch Film Festival
'I was very depressed … I was a borderline alcoholic in my adolescence. I never really let myself become angry, that was one of the ways I tried to shield myself from becoming like my stepfather,' explains Oscar nominated director Bing Liu when reflecting on the impact of the violence he experienced in his childhood on his mental health.
His skateboarding documentary Minding the Gap is showing at The Human Rights Watch Film Festival and director John Biaggi states they chose the film because, 'It brings a new approach in presenting domestic abuse and child abuse issues, coming from a male director and centering on three young men.' As part of the official Human Rights Watch nonprofit organisation the festival is in its 23rd year now and runs in over twenty cites across the globe. Its aim is to present and cover a wide variety of films in terms of geography and topic that 'bear witness to human rights violations and create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference.'
One of Liu's intentions when he first started making his film, set in the recession hit, rust-belt American town of Rockford where he grew up, was to observe his friends, Zack and Kiere, as they came of age and explore how skateboarding offered them freedom from the confines of violence at home. 'As a teen it was definitely an escape. As I entered my twenties, I started noticing diminishing returns in a sense in that I noticed that skateboarding isn't a panacea for everything. It didn't help people move on with their lives in a meaningful way. I came to see it as something that should be examined critically.'
That confrontational attitude serves the film well with Liu refusing to shy away from Zack's behaviour when it comes to his responsibility as a father and his relationship with his partner Nina. 'I knew that examining Zack in a deep way could be an element but I thought it would be more enriching to see what a survivor or a woman's perspective would be in that relationship. Before I knew even that I was going to look into my own story I think it was a proxy to try and understand what my mum went through.'
As well as following Zack, Nina and Kiere over a four-year period, Liu turned the camera on himself, his mother and brother to investigate the cycle of violence and trauma. 'I was 23 when I noticed a lot of my peers possibly becoming a part of a cycle that past generations in their family had started a long time ago. Once domestic violence became a theme, I saw it as an opportunity not to just get at the symptoms but at the causes too.'
Examining different coping mechanisms was a key aspect with Liu explaining, 'The film is an exploration of other people's journeys in terms of how they thought about growing up and escaping patterns as a way to possibly mitigate any perpetuation of cycles for myself.'
Healing too was important with Liu adding that he saw a lot himself in Keire, 'He's eight years younger than me, so he was fifteen when I first met him. I asked him how he felt about being a black skateboarder in a mostly white friendship group. He opened up about how sometimes his friends made him feel uncomfortable but he was a lot more protective of them back then. As a kid you just want to fit in. Now, post-film he's become so politically active and outspoken about racial justice. It's quite amazing.'
Minding the Gap screens at The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Barbican, London, Mon 18 Mar; Regent Street Cinema, London, Tue 19 Mar. UK release Fri 22 Mar.
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Human Rights Watch Film Festival addresses human rights subject matter and presents works from new and established international filmmakers. The festival operates in over 20 cities around the world throughout the year.