Bing Liu didn’t originally think he would include himself in “Minding the Gap,” his documentary about skateboarding and intergenerational violence. But once he began filming his other subjects, he reconsidered.
Liu first began filming skateboarders six years ago, he told the crowd after a showing of his film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series in Los Angeles. He’d talk to them after they’d finished skating, so they were in great moods and open to his questions. Once he zeroed in on his two main subjects, skateboarding buddies from his hometown whom he’d filmed while growing up in Rockford, Ill., Liu was able to delve deeper into their lives — including some uncomfortable and intimate questions.
“What we do as documentary filmmakers is we toe this line between public and private,” he said at the Q&A, adding later, “putting myself in the film was a solution in trying to get at this tension between private and public.”
It also was somewhat of a necessity, considering his other two subjects, Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson, were less communicative. Liu would sometimes go back to shoot, and they wouldn’t respond — so he began filming people from his own life.
“Sometimes when you’re shooting … there’s a moment that changes everything,” he said. That moment was when Zack’s girlfriend, Nina, told Liu that Zack had been physically violent toward her. The thread of violence linked the three stories — Liu’s abusive stepfather, Johnson’s father, and Mulligan’s own actions — and strengthened the film.
“I knew firsthand how a man can be one way in public and another way inside the household,” Liu said. “I knew that intimately, so I believed her immediately.”
He then took a 40-hour domestic violence class so he would know how to better deal with the subject matter, and began seeing a therapist. Liu also made peace with the fact that his subjects could potentially decide that they didn’t want such personal information out in the world.
Ultimately, all of this also helped him deal with his own trauma, he said. And Mulligan did not revoke any permissions after he viewed the final cut of the film.
“At the credits, he was crying,” Liu said. “He was relieved because he thought he was going to be portrayed worse.”
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.