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.
AL Boys State and ALA Girls State are summer leadership and citizenship programs sponsored by The American Legion (AL) and the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) for high school juniors, respectively. Boys and Girls are usually nominated by their high school during their junior year. Boys and Girls State programs both began in 1937 and are held in each of the U.S. states.
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.
“Boys State” is entertaining and enlightening, depressing and exhilarating, a film that, by combining the elements of a TV reality show with a couple of hours of C-SPAN, captures the current political moment in a different way.
McBaine and Moss’ film takes place in Texas, where more than 1,000 boys have gathered in the summer of 2018 to create their own government.
They’re divided into Federalists and Nationalists, and have to come up with a party platform (the year before, they voted for Texas to secede from the U.S.), candidates and everything else a political campaign entails. The week culminates in the election of a governor.
No spoilers here on the results. But “Boys State” reminds us that no matter what the outrage of the moment might be, we’re playing a long game, and you hope good wins out. But it’s going to take a lot of pain and disappointment along the way.
MacDailyNews Note: Subscribers to Apple TV+ can watch “Boys State” here.