‘Boys State’ was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. To this, I say ‘well deserved!’
In the opening of the film, there’s a quote. It’s one uttered by George Washington. Keep in mind that he said this in 1796, and it’s, for all intense and purposes, a warning. He said, ‘Political parties are likely to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will by enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.’ Reading that hooked me on watching the rest of ‘Boys State,’ and should everyone else. This film parades before us the next crop of people who want to run our legislative institutions. That should be paid attention to, in my opinion. By the way, there IS a Girls State, as well. For some reason, the film only focuses on males.
The film singles out a few guys to follow around and interview while they’re at a one-week summer program. That program is and has been for years, organized by the American Legion. Past participants have been Dick Cheney in 1950, Bill Clinton in 1963, and Corey Booker in 1986. They’re in good company and do feel honored to be there. That said, I did feel privileged to watch such an achievement in informative filmmaking and thoroughly enjoyed the sneak peek into the growth of the young men who will become the politicians of our future. Well, some will, anyway. While watching, it seems easy at first to pick out those individuals who will possibly move through the halls of congress, but then the film advances, and as you learn more about the boys, most around seventeen, that line becomes more blurred.
Regardless, it is fascinating to watch, and as you do, each of these boys grows to become a man before your very eyes. As they’re being interviewed, some begin to let their guard down and show you who they really are. They may not want to admit certain things, but some even offer that at times they say and do whatever it takes to win.
They say they’re one thing when they’re the complete opposite; rally behind a particular belief when it is not their own.
One boy, in particular, begins to stand out far above the rest. He’s the very progressive, Steven Garza. In fact, I’m confident we’ll see him in the political arena in the not too distant future. He tells us that he’s the first person in his family to graduate high school. That being the case, he has the drive to succeed, and the support from his family to go far in life. Look where he is in this film! Oh, I’ll not tell you that. But you’ll see it in him, too. He’s a future leader in whatever he pursues.
We also meet an amputee named Ben Feinstein who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. He dreams of one day working in the CIA, FBI or Department of Defense. I’m betting he will. There’s also, René Otero. Anyone aiming for any goal in life needs René on their side. His intense passion and aspirations are vigorously felt through the camera lens. There are a few others, but you’ll have to watch to meet them all.
I hope you’ll watch directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s expertly composed film. It’s a critical study that shows youngsters being taught compromise, platforms, campaigns, fellowship, party loyalty, and how to run an entire election. It also pulls at the heartstrings when things don’t turn out exactly as had been planned.
Directors: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
Running Time: 1h 39m