American politics and ideological divisions are seen when 1
Deep in the heart of Texas, a couple of San Francisco filmmakers found a microcosm of the American political system – and at least one child you might vote for president in 20 years or so.
The new documentary “Boys State” (streaming Friday on Apple TV +), directed by the married duo Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, follows the 2018 edition of the week-long annual program where 1,100 teenage Texas boys gather in Austin, split in two political parties (Nationalists and Federalists) and creates its own mocking state government. In the midst of a time of national division, the film shows how different ideologies also polarize these different young people even when they sow hope and unity.
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“The film is unwarranted, it is real (and) it does not sugarcoat reality, which is finding agreement is difficult but it is possible,” says Moss. A female-centric follow-up film about Girls State may be on the cards, McBaine adds.
The directors discuss how the participants in “Boy State”, which debates quick button issues such as weapons, abortion and immigration, reflect our own modern policy.
A politician says what he needs for a vote
Robert MacDougall is a charismatic nationalist jock who addresses the governor, the highest-elected agency in Boys State, even though his personal feelings about abortion do not clash with it as a red-state mob. So he puts his conviction aside to lean in a pro-life position to help his gubernatorial campaign chances.
Most people expect politicians to lie, even if you normally do not see anyone coming clean in front of a camera.
“It’s the kind of scene where Robert completely acts (like) what he considers a politician, and then we see what kind of internal struggle and what kind of questions he asks himself,” McBaine says.
And when Robert says you can not be chosen for what you believe in your heart, Moss says, “it’s a kind of crushing statement.”
Social media is used both as a campaign tool and a destructive weapon
Both parties are encouraged to campaign on social media, and almost immediately anonymous Instagram accounts and memes appear to spread disinformation about candidates on both sides.
Two nationalist color boys are targeted. Gubernatorial candidate Steven Garza, the silent son of Mexican immigrants with a gift for oratorio, is portrayed by opponents as an anti-gun when it is discovered that he organized a March For Our Lives event in Houston. And racist attacks are directed at party chairman René Otero, a new black transplant from Chicago who is one of the toughest voices on Boys State.
It is an aspect where “the simulation accurately reflects the adult reality”, says Moss. “You see both the best and the worst that is shown.”
Moss adds that one of their motives for making the film was to understand how ideologically fixed young people are and whether “the political rhetoric at the moment has in a way polluted the pool. We leave it to the viewers to make themselves, but you definitely see that threat. “
As with the adult version, legislation may be a zoo, but it’s no joke
None of the main characters ended up in the Boys State legislature, but still the filmmakers captured some interesting moments, as a case made to ban the pineapple pizza. But serious law was also discussed: “They approved the general bill for background checks in Texas,” McBaine said. “It says something, that they’m ready to have that conversation, for sure.”
It was a real surprise for Moss that “this hypermasculine space of machismo and aggression that you see in the beginning, there is actually something deeper. There is intimacy and empathy and vulnerability, things we may not have expected to find. “
A unifying candidate crosses the aisle to get things done
While Steven – a fan of Bernie Sanders as well as Napoleon – takes Boys State by storm and becomes a surprise hit with his powerful campaign speeches, he also expresses the desire to win over his nationalist base and appeal to federalist voters. It is a refreshing message at a time when the nation is divided by party lines.
These divisions have only become sharper in the two years since the directors started “Boys State”, and the humble and determined Steven successfully embodies the important “search for consensus and compromise”, says Moss. “When challenged with weapons, he does not encounter his opinions and defend them, but he seems to find a way to talk to the boys in the room in a way that gives them to him.”
Moss admired all the boys’ intelligence and ambitions, but with Steven there was “this grace through which he led himself that helped us navigate this experience as a filmmaker and find a center we could hold on to.”
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