When Bing Liu first came to Sarasota, he packed his skateboard. After arriving, he rode around Payne Park and took note of the scene around him, before getting down to the real reason he had traveled to Sarasota: to participate in the 2018 Sarasota Film Festival, which screened his documentary debut, Minding the Gap.
Liu's film won the Sarasota festival's Best Documentary Feature last year and collected a ton of other awards at other festivals before being nominated for the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. After his whirlwind year, Liu, 30, is preparing for a return trip to Florida, where he'll sit in on another Sarasota screening of the film—this time at New College of Florida's Mildred Sainer Fine Arts Complex, 5313 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19.
Minding the Gap follows three young men (Liu included) as they come of age in the town of Rockford, Illinois. One is on the brink of fatherhood, while another is attempting to move away. Liu, meanwhile, reflects on his own upbringing in Rockford after moving to Chicago. What bonds the young men is their shared struggle with childhood abuse, and how skateboarding helps them escape trauma. It's a coming-of-age story that is brutally honest about growing up in unfortunate circumstances. "When you're a kid, you just do, you just act," one subject bitterly recounts. "And then, somewhere along the line, everyone loses that.
The decision for Liu to include himself in the story came gradually. "I feel as if I had been open with my story in other forms," Liu tells Sarasota Magazine. "The challenge was more how to do it with this film in a way that felt justified. It was a late decision that started as I got deeper and deeper into the story."
Filming took more than a decade, and the movie reflects that. It includes a mix of candid one-on-one interviews with each subject, spliced with home video footage. "The first few cuts were literally young people talking about trauma and abuse," Liu says. "And then, over time, it was like, 'What is this person's story?' A lot of it was about getting perspective."
Minding the Gap has been picked up by the online streaming service Hulu, where it can now be seen. Even after the credits roll, it's hard for the viewer not to feel as if the three men's stories aren't still with them.
Minding the Gap will be screened at New College of Florida's Mildred Sainer Fine Arts Complex, 5313 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19. The event is free and open to the public. Reserve a seat online.