Minding the Gap is a documentary in progress which is always tricky to explain, so bear with me.
It spawned in the first few months of 2011, in the wake of finishing a documentary about skateboard filming (Look At Me).
I had an itching, worried curiosity during my 20's. I wanted to know why, as I moved to a different city, got a job, and pursued my dreams, that my beloved peers who in my youth provided a sense of family were all falling off: alcoholism, depression, rehab, prison, minimum wage, surprise pregnancies, running in circles feeling helpless. A few of their parents found them one day hanging by a rope from the ceiling fan or pulseless with that far-away heroin gratification still on their face. In a landscape of divorces, broken homes, and parental neglect, I wanted to mind the gap.
Because I’ve been skateboarding since I was thirteen, I hold a certain social credibility with the subjects I meet. But why they really open up to me, and why my heart is fully committed to this project, is because I’ve also survived a stormy childhood which I’m frank about with everyone I interview. Furthermore, I know how skateboarders think and how much they want to glorify skateboarding. But I refuse to make their interviews about skateboarding. Rather, I want this story to be about everything off the board—the repressed silence that doesn’t hit close enough to home.
On a roadtrip in early 2011, I conducted dozens of unplanned interviews with anyone who’d agree to talk in front of the camera. What does being lost feel like? Do you love your father or your mother more? Who taught you how to hate? What does it mean to be a good father? Knowing wasn't the point. I already knew the answers in my bones, bruise by bruise and hangover after hangover. I survived absent and abusive fathers and stepfathers. I kept vodka bottles hidden beneath my bed to get through the worst years.
The questions were pretenses to just get people talking. I knew we all had skeletons in the closet which we buried with temporary outlets or stoic and sometimes aggressive bravado. Eventually, the subjects' responses could be categorized three ways: indirect avoidance, rehearsed retelling, and apprehensive soliloquy. The last category was what I was seeking. I wanted to catch that moment when someone is unburying tumultuous and stormy feelings and putting them into words for the first time, that instance when the camera and the world fades away and they ascend into fragile monologue.
It wasn’t until a trip to St. Louis in the spring of 2011 and a serendipitous run-in with Bobby, a brooding 31-year-old engineer, that the project obtained a coherent goal. He told me a story about Father's Day the previous year, when he was skateboarding at Shitside—St. Louis's prized, skater-built park underneath a dilapidated highway. When everyone was gathered in a circle, he asked why everyone was there instead of at home with their dads--his own childhood had been fatherless and unstable. He heard a resounding response: my father's gone, my father's in jail, my father's a piece of shit. Bobby was caught off guard. "Perceptions about those people changed that day," he says.
Ever since Bobby's interview, I’ve made excursions into familial stories of suffering with skateboarders living all over the U.S.—including Chicago, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, and Austin. The collective stories are used to introduce the anger, hurt, and scars left over.
I’m currently seeking to ingratiate myself with two skateboarders: a single mother from a broken home and a married father from a stable home. The mother has come out of an abusive relationship with her children’s father. She’s seen therapists, but has never opened up in front of a camera. The father is a bilingual third-grade teacher who’s gift is his ability to articulate how skateboarding informs his role both at home and at school. I want to continue documenting moments in their family lives that can reach some ultimate thesis about the inter-generational cause and effects of how parents raise their children.
This film is being made because, despite this generation’s embracement of social networking, many youth still feel there are some things you just can’t talk about. Yet it is these avoided topics that shapes the next generation of parents. To begin comprehending, healing, and changing, we’ll have to talk about more than just skateboarding.
In 2014 I was accepted into a fellowship program for documentary filmmakers of color at Kartemquin Films, which is an incredibly informative learning experience in terms of proposals, budgeting, story-telling, and distribution.
People often ask me about a release date or my plans for when the film is completed. I'm not sure how to put my sentiments and hopes into words. It's like that fear that if you communicate an overwhelming passion, it'll suddenly be cheapened and less-than-perfect. I do have lofty dreams for this project, but I'm going to take as long as the film needs; I've followed the thread and it's been nothing but rewarding. Documentaries are a string of question marks, not a search for pre-determined answers. I'm going to let the film breathe. One push at a time.