A critically-acclaimed film created in Rockford shows skateboarding is more than a hobby for some.
Audience members walking through the doors of Rockford's Nordlof Center received pamphlets on reducing trauma. That's because the film, called Minding the Gap, highlights hard truths about trauma and abuse as seen through the lens of local skateboarders.
Filmmaker Bing Liu grew up in Rockford. He says there's a deep misconception about what happens at a skate park.
"That's a result of people actually not having had firsthand experience spending time at skate parks," he said.
Last month's Nordlof screening was part of the Mosaic World Film Festival. Liu said it was the first time he presented the film in his hometown. Sold out screenings drew audiences like former teachers and neighbors.
"It like pierced through the bubble of this whole experience in terms of the way that I've been dealing with it, which is mostly disassociating and sort of walking in and out of it in a dream state," said Liu.
Liu said the screenings were raw and real and gave him a type of release when he saw peoples' reaction to the film.
"But for me, it was like, I didn't want to be torched and pitchforked out of Rockford. I didn't want to have the community not accept it," he said.
The weekend festival also included panel discussions. Community members candidly asked Liu and film participants how best to improve the lives of those who are living the Rockford reality shown in the film. Former Mayor Larry Morrissey spoke briefly at a screening and called the gathering a form of community therapy. Liu agrees.
"I've been having a lot of conversations lately with people about how much we live our lives and decide things based off of really trying to seek comfort and trying to avoid discomfort. And how discomfort is usually where we learn and grow as people, so I'm glad it was a really uncomfortable weekend," said Liu.
Liu said he'd like to see people truly support skateboarders in the future now that Minding The Gap has debuted.
"There's studies done on the way that skate parks lower crime, the way that skate parks just benefit a community. But it's just really interesting to see how hard communities push against skate parks because of the misconceptions of it," he said.
Fellow skateboarder Ariel Ries owns Fargo Skateboarding in DeKalb. She and some friends converted a former theatre into an indoor skate park, one of the few in northern Illinois.
"I just see what it does for kids. It builds body awareness, self-confidence, it helps them be in the moment," she said.
Ries says she's passionate about teaching skateboarding in her community because she has seen the benefits.
"It can be as simple as a mode of transportation or it could be something that you don't really think about every day, but then the people that do think about it every day -- it's like this way being able to always challenge and progress themselves and be able to express themselves," said Ries.
One of Ries' students is nine-year-old Esther. Her dad, Ron Adamson, sat on the edge of the Fargo park watching Esther ride around in a pink dress and stickered helmet. Adamson said she started skateboarding in January after she heard about Fargo at her school. He said it's been a form of catharsis for his daughter.
"Through skating you can learn that perseverance of getting up and getting back on the board and continuing to work through whatever you're struggling with," he said.
Adamson calls himself a skate dad. He said Esther even inspired him to get back on a skateboard himself.
"If you can reach kids through anything and give them another place to connect in a positive environment that is absolutely the way to go," he said.
Adamson said he's seen Minding The Gap. He said he'd like to see more community support for skateboarding, including more skate parks like Fargo.
Liu's film has been making waves in the industry, winning awards at festivals like Canada's International Hot Docs Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.