The sensational winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Boys State is a wildly entertaining and continually revealing immersion into a week-long annual program in which a thousand Texas high school seniors gather for an elaborate mock exercise: building their own state government. Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine closely track the escalating tensions that arise within a particularly riveting gubernatorial race, training their cameras on unforgettable teenagers like Ben, a Reagan-loving arch-conservative who brims with confidence despite personal setbacks, and Steven, a progressive-minded child of Mexican immigrants who stands by his convictions amidst the sea of red. In the process, they have created a complex portrait of contemporary American masculinity, as well as a microcosm of our often dispiriting national political divisions that nevertheless manages to plant seeds of hope.
Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss shows these young men and their high minded ideals collide with dirty tricks, diverse backgrounds and political views while navigating the challenges of organizing political parties, shaping consensus and campaigning for office. Through impeachment threats, dramatic debates, and even nefarious internet memes, BOYS STATE charts the twists and turns of these intersecting stories, revealing profound truths about our political choices and civic obligations, exposing the political fault lines in Texas and in our nation, and reminding us, ultimately, that Democracy is not a spectator sport. McBaine’s eye and attention to every nuance allows the audience to see even the smallest of human flaws and attributes.
Who we elect and how we elect matter. The American Legion knows that better than anyone as they are responsible for training and grooming politicians like Cory Booker, Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton to name a few. So, watching this yearly traction play out for young, aspiring politicians is a wonder to behold as most will say and do whatever it takes to get into office…even if it means gaslighting and lying to get there. Sound familiar?
In less than 53 days, we have an opportunity to right a grossly elected wrong. If Boys State teaches us anything, we learn that spike and mirrors, verbal attacks and empty promises don’t make America great. Integrity, honesty, empathy and a genuine desire to watch ALL Americans prosper in the most dire of times for our country are what matter most in this moment.
Directed and written by Amanda McBaine with co-diretor Jesse Moss and produced by A24, BOYS STATE is streaming right now via Apple TV Plus.