"Boy's State", won the 2020 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary. Will it make the shortlist for an Academy Award during this strange, COVID-impacted year?
"Boy's State" is a political coming-of-age documentary that follows 1,200 teenage boys in Texas participating in the titular, week-long American Legion program.
The program, founded in 1935, teaches participants about the rights, privileges and responsibilities of American citizens. The political training centers on the structure of city, county and state governments and includes legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, campaigns and assemblies. By the end of the week, the boys create a representative government.
This may sound a little ho-hum, but what drew the directors' attention to the program and possibility of a documentary was the inspired and unscripted events that took place at the Texas Boy's State the summer after President Donald Trump's election. The participants ultimately voted to secede from the Union. Now, that merited attention.
Leslie and I met some of the boys and interviewed the husband-and-wife director team of Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss on KPCW's Sundance Reel prior to the film's premiere in January. Talking to them piqued my interest. When I saw the film, I found it even more engaging than I'd imagined.
Moss and McBaine were struggling to understand the polarization we're experiencing in our nation. They wondered if the lessons taught by this program to teens could be a larger lesson for the rest of us. Moss feels we can no longer take democracy for granted. Our institutions are under assault and to save them there is no option but to be informed and be involved no matter what your age.
The program attempts to gather a diverse group of boys. Likewise, the directors followed four very different boys in depth. They interviewed hundreds prior to the filming and chose 4 who all seemed to be politically aware, intelligent and possess leadership qualities yet were from varying backgrounds and ideologies.
It is funny, emotional, eye-opening, and inspirational to watch these boys learn by doing. The audience responded to the premiere with a rousing standing ovation.
By the way, there are many famous and accomplished alumni of the Boy's State program including; Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Cory Booker, Bill Clinton and believe it or not Bruce Springsteen! And for those of you wondering, yes, there is a comparable program for girls.
"Boy's State" is rated PG-13 and runs 1 hour 49 politically-minded minutes. It can be streamed from AppleTV+.