Every year, after our daily Education Screenings, we ask the attending students to write an essay about the films they saw, and select a winner and runner-up. We're concluding the series with the unedited winning and runner-up essays from our 9th-12th Grade students, covering the Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap.
WINNER 9th-12th: Lizette
Everyone grows up in distinct homes. No matter how hard every kid dreams about having the perfect life, there is always something that seems distant. For me, growing up, I became adjusted to waking up in a silent, dark home with just my dog to comfort me. Ring Ring. I wake up to the sound of my alarm, and not my mom’s voice to get my day started. From experience, I can say that it is discouraging to not have my parents there to take me to school, make me breakfast or even have them walk into my room to say good morning. Being just a kid, it’s difficult and frustrating to not know how to fix the problems presented day after day. This idea is clearly depicted in the film, Minding the Gap, where different backgrounds of three friends come together to challenge the way they grew up. The film itself clarifies every situation in each home, revolving around emotions urging to be released. However, the title holds a singular role in any film, as it introduces the main concept of the film itself. Selecting a title is a process that must involve a lot of factors. In this case, Bing Liu chose the title “Minding the Gap” for the film to highlight the void presented throughout the life of each person involved a broken home, a father figure, and a strong supportive family.
The film Minding the Gap reflects on the emptiness each person experienced in their broken home. The documentary combines the life style of Bing Liu, Kiere, and Zack, and how they all come together in a sense that they are “minding the gap.” The act of minding the gap, which is one of the reasons Bing Liu chose that as the title, reflects on their daily actions but mainly their future and the way their life is playing out as they grow up. For example, Zack becomes a father in the film, and begins to raise his child around constant yelling due to the toxic relationship with his girlfriend, the mother of his child. Zack praises about trying his best to be there for his child in the film, but is later seen aggressively arguing with his girlfriend infront of their baby. Zack grew up practically on his own, as his family neglected him for not accepting who he was. In the documentary, Zack admits to always running away from his home, therefore developing without any support or sense of direction from anyone. The fil,m ties in with how Zack’s future was playing out due to him growing up in a broken home. That gap, that is represented by an abundance of proper care and concern from his family, is not being disregarded for any longer, but rather showing in his actions now that he is a father. That gap is what triggers Zack to act the way he does in some parts of the film, which explains why Bing Liu chose the title Minding the Gap to address the gap that was missing in all their childhoods. The film depicts the actions that are a cause of that gap, in this example, it ties in to how Zack has developed as a person, and a father as a consequence of that gap.
The title “Minding the Gap” stems from not only highlighting how the characters grew up in a broken home, but also how they specifically lacked a father figure. Not having a father figure basically interprets to having one less person to guide you growing up. Being boys, a father figure is someone they looked up to because that is who they are meant to model as they get older. However, the documentary highlights the lack of father figures in each of the situations and the effects of that. For example, Kiere is seen in the film speaking about how the last words he told his father was “I hate you”’ because that is just how their relationship truly was. Kiere expresses not feeling like he fit in his own home and therefore he turned to skating, and that’s where he met Bing Liu and Zack. Although Kiere made great friends, his lack of a father figure caused him to turn elsewhere for guidance. The need of a father figure made Kiere grow up in a broken home, and not receive the sufficient support. He felt he needed to stay away from home and found the love for skating which became his gateway. The title “Minding the Gap” emphasizes the missing part of each of the characters, a father figure. In Kiere’s case, “Minding the Gap” meant acknowledging the missing piece in his life, which was his father.
Lastly, “Minding the Gap” is chosen as the title of this documentary to call out the effect of not having a strong, supportive family. Growing up in a stable family almost seems like it’s a right, but that’s not always the case. Families are torn due to many different factors, but one factor is mothers siding with their husbands over the needs of their children. The title “Minding the Gap" exposes this issue through Bing Liu’s childhood, where he was beaten by his father and his mother couldn’t defend him. Bing Liu confronts his mother in the film, and therefore “Minding the Gap” ties into that part of the film perfectly because he decided to address the terror he went through growing up in a unstable home, which was the gap for him. Bing Liu did not have the right to casually speak about his childhood due to his lack of support from his family. Similar to Kiere, Bing turned to skating and his parents didn’t understand nor support it. It wasn’t “traditional” in his household, and therefore wrong. Instead of communicating and powering through differences, Bing’s family struggled with staying a strong family. Bing minds the gap and addresses his childhood issues of not growing up supported by his family, which explains why he chose that as the title.
In conclusion, “Minding the Gap” was the chosen title for this film because it emphasizes the recognition of missing pieces throughout Bing, Kiere and Zack’s life, such as growing up in a broken home, the lack of a father figure, and the need of a supportive family. The documentary takes apart each situation and ties them together by the title, they are all minding the gap in the film. The film highlights the struggles and issues faced through their childhood and also carries out to show the people they are today, speaking truthfully about how they felt and even confronting their mothers about it. All of this can be integrated to the title and that explains why Bing Liu chose that title. A title that would capture all the moments seen in the film, but also evoke curiosity before even watching it.
RUNNER-UP 9th-12th: Vanessa
How can humans thrive without support? Support can be shown in many types of ways, but the most common includes love and attention. From a very young age, we need to be shown support in order to know that there are people in our lives who want to see us succeed and will be with us throughout this journey of life. For many of us, we expect that support to come from our parents. We look up to these people so much and depend on them for a majority of our life-time. So, that is why it is tough and nerve wracking when one of them lets us down. A great sense of failure comes to you and you question why you weren’t good enough for that parent’s support. As a result, a gap of failure and distance starts to form and people do everything in their will power in order to mind the sense of failure and be their own support system. Bing Liu, a film director who explores the ideas previously mentioned, chose Minding the Gap for the title of his film in order to show struggles that people face and how they go about coping with those obstacles the best way they can.
To begin, in order to mind the gap, it has to have come from someplace. In the case of the three teenagers, they all have had horrible experiences with their parents, especially fathers. They were abused verbally, mentally, physically and emotionally. The mothers wouldn’t do much to help the problems because they were either afraid to intervene with their partner, or they didn’t care. The boys felt alone and like they had nobody to go to for support in dealing with this situation. As a result, the boys formed a gap between them and their families. They distanced themselves as much as they could, so they wouldn’t get hurt anymore. In the film, for example, Bing was a victim of heavy and constant abuse from his step-father. His mother knew, but she was too afraid to do anything about it because she fell victim to the abuse as well. Bing knew of the abuse; however, he still felt that as her role as a mother and guardian she should have done something. She called the police one day, but did not file charges. Bing’s mother always wanted a family, she wanted to be married and just have a happy life. She saw the good in her husband and for that reason, she allowed the abuse to continue in hope that he would one day just stop. Bing’s feelings for his mother turned into anger and her choosing her abusive husband over her own son had caused the gap to form. He felt no support and attention from either of his parents. He took on film making and sports in order to mind the gap. He found a great way to cope and is trying to mind the gap of missing love and attention by producing films and recording his everyday life along with his friends.
In the film, Bing also followed the life of one his good friends, Kiere Johnson, and showed how his life was without a great support system. In Johnson’s case, his gap was formed by a lack of a father figure and a mother who was controlled by her many fleeting love interests. This all led to a lack of trust and support in his own family, and he knew no where else to turn to except the streets. His father died when he was young, and even when he was alive they always fought. Johnson’s last words to his father were “I hate you”, so that says a lot about their relationship. He tried to mind the gap of disappointment and lack of support by skateboarding with his friends and spending every chance he could to be with them, even if he did feel like an odd one out. At one point during the documentary, Johnson’s friends were laughing at what seems to be a racial stereotyping video. Johnson expressed his feelings and said that, being the only black person in the group, he felt left out most times. He had feelings of being excluded in many aspects of his life. Johnson’s mother tried to be a support system for him, but her boyfriend at the time was controlive and aggressive; thus, keeping them apart. The few people he did feel completely supported by was his younger nephews, and even then they weren’t the best support because they were young and couldn’t help to their best extent. Overall, he did not have a great support system and could only cope with the struggles he faced by skateboarding. Everybody is different and has their own ways of coping with difficulties, some are good coping mechanisms like Bing’s and Kiere’s; however, others only cause further damage.
The way that people cope with themselves and their problems is all in their own ways. One character in particular, Zack Mulligan, is an interesting person. He has a newborn child, a good partner and more; however, he was also an alcoholic, he loves the streets and his skateboard and was abusive towards his girlfriend. He had two amazing people and his girlfriend’s welcoming family who were apart of his support system to lean on, but he took them for granted and used alcohol as support in order to mend the gap he had. The way that he coped with his problems negatively impacted all of his loved ones. It led him to hurt his girlfriend physically and emotionally and he often times did not want to deal with his newborn child. Zack did not see it like that he saw it as him drinking and forgetting the struggles in his life. He escaped his reality through alcohol and saw the good it did for him with filling the gap of missing support he craved. Alcohol was his support system and how he coped, but it was not the best way.
Film director, Bing Liu, chose the title Minding the Gap in order to show viewers the struggles that people face, and how they choose to cope with them. Throughout the film, the viewers see the struggles that three young men have to deal with daily. Not only that, but also how they cope with these obstacles. The majority of them, Bing and Kiere, cope with these obstacles and mind the gap of feeling lack of support by taking an interest in art and sports. They do things that is good for their soul and will be a good distraction and will help them grow. Zack, on the other hand, is an example of having coping mechanisms that just makes the situation and feelings worse and even causes the gap to become wider. Zack deals with his problems in a way that, not only destroys himself, but his loved ones, as well. As a result, in the ending of Minding the Gap, the viewers see how the three characters have grown. Bing and Kiere are doing great, they’re doing things that they enjoy and want to do. The way that they coped with their obstacles paid off greatly, and the gap that they once felt heavily has subsided and have realized that they can be their own support system, as well. Zack has grown, too he is happy. He ended up redating and his current girlfriend clearly has helped him grow into a better father, partner and person. In the end, the gaps were minded with the help of newly discovered, and better, support systems that helped the young men overcome their obstacles and mind the gaps.
Congratulations, Lizette and Vanessa!
Milwaukee Film’s Education Screenings are presented by Brewers Community Foundation, Inc. and the Herzfeld Foundation, with additional support from Greater Milwaukee Foundation / Carl and Lora Otjen Family Fund, and the Gene & Ruth Posner Foundation, Inc.