Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 2018. ITVS, Kartemquin Films, P.O.V./American Documentary. Cinematography by Bing Liu. Produced by Bing Liu, Diane Moy Quon. Music by Nathan Halpern, Chris Ruggiero. Film Editing by Joshua Altman, Bing Liu.
The opening scene of this documentary features two of its main subjects, Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson, skateboarding through their hometown of Rockford, Illinois, with filmmaker Bing Liu, who has also been friends with them since childhood, following on what is presumably another skateboard while holding his camera. The footage is remarkably affecting, making the viewer feel that they are flying and convincingly recreating the sensation that this pastime, to which these guys have been for years devoted, must occur to the person doing it. It’s an important way to open this film because, while skateboarding is the basis upon which a great deal of their interaction relies and is the subject often returned to, it’s not actually what we spend a great deal of time exploring or experiencing. The activity turns out to be the way that these young men escape the various realities of their lives, in all cases troubled homes suffering violence and abuse that has manifested itself cyclically upon the next generation. Zack has become a father at a very young age and is in a volatile, to say the least, relationship with his girlfriend Nina, the two of them having become parents at a very young age; Keire was raised by his father who has just passed away and returned him to his mother’s care, plunging him into crises of security and identity; and Liu, in the film’s most powerful sequences, confronts his mother on camera about the abuse he and his brother suffered at the hands of their stepfather. The manner in which Liu weaves between these lives, both their hard personal conflicts as well as the joy of their devotion to skateboarding, feels seamless and results in the viewer caring very deeply about the people involved.