Listen: Lessons From ‘Boys State’

The director says the documentary about the annual event in Austin was “an opportunity to see how young people were really thinking about their role in politics.”

By Laura RiceAugust 13, 2020 1:41 pm, , ,

Every summer since 1940, hundreds of incoming high school seniors gather in Austin for Boys State, where they create their own state government from the ground up. In the new documentary, “Boys State,” filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine followed attendees at the event in 2018.

Moss and McBaine first came up with the idea of a documentary about Boys State in 2017 after reading an article about it in The Washington Post.

“It struck us that it was a really unusual environment and that it was bringing together kids of very different politics to engage with each other,” Moss told Texas Standard. “We loved the idea that it would be a prism into our current political moment and an opportunity to see how young people were really thinking about their role in politics.”

One of the boys featured in the film was Steven Garza, who told Texas Standard he had thought the event was going to be more like Model U.N. – it wasn’t – and said he also didn’t intend to star in a documentary.

“Every single day was a surprise,” Garza said. “I didn’t expect for it to become as emotional for me as it did and as insane as it was.”

According to Moss, the filmmakers did expect to witness some chaos and discord among so many teenage boys. But that wasn’t all of what they saw.

“What we didn’t expect, and we did find as well, was something much more elevated – a real commitment to discourse, to working together, to compromise,” Moss said. “To see Steven [Garza] really display an extraordinary ability to summon these rowdy young men to their better angels was one of the great surprises of the story.”

Garza said he hopes viewers walk away from the film with a simple message about how to function in today’s political climate: “It’s still possible to talk to each other,” he said, especially if a bunch of “rowdy” 17-year-olds can do it “with civility and respect.”

“Boys State” won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. It will be available on Apple TV+ Aug. 14.

Web story by Sarah Gabrielli.

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