Sundance London: Boys State (2020) – Film Review

Whether it is a President bring petulant during a press conference or MPs braying like jackals during Prime Minister’s Questions, one can often look at politics (American or British) and think “they are acting like children”. Fresh from Sundance London, Boys State doubles down on that notion and gives us a glimpse at a world run by children. Well, teenagers at least… if that is any better?!

Every year 1100 teenage boys descend on Austin, Texas for a Boys State Camp. A week long camp exercise where they must build a representative government from the ground up. From campaigning and elections to enacting policy, everything is down to them.

In the UK, we get computer camp or soccer camp. In the US, it’s politics. Although the football analogy is not too dissimilar. At times, the group of potential politicians seem more like the crowd at a stadium match cheering on their favourite team than the future of the country.

Once the adults have laid out the rules and layout of the week’s activities, the boys are on their own. Left to their own devices, there is potential for the week to turn into a real life Lord Of The Flies situation.

As the parties are decided, factions are made, people make their power plays, etc. Then as Frankie Goes To Hollywood says, “Two tribes go to war”.

Ironically, there is more fighting inside the parties than across the partisanship party lines. There is backstabbing and double crossing. There are scandals leaked to social media. It is like an entire season of The West Wing or The Thick Of It and it all plays out over an enthralling 109 minutes.

The reason it is so absorbing a documentary is because of the subjects the directors have chosen to follow. The core four protagonists are Steven Garza, Rene Otero, Ben Feinstein and Robert MacDougall. They are all completely different in terms of character but all equally compelling as they plot and execute their rise to power.

It is an extremely well edited piece of non-fiction storytelling. As the film progresses, the narrative streamlines into the race for Governor. On one side, the softly spoken, intelligent and passionate Garza. The other, MacDougall who treats the election like he is running for head of a fraternity.

There are plenty of twists and turns along the way but given the last four years, one should expect the unexpected when it comes to politics.

We might be losing faith in politics but thanks to Boys State, the state of the union between politics and film is as strong as ever.

Film Rating:

Boys State is streaming on Apple TV+ from August 14th

Director: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
Runtime: 109 minutes
Country: USA

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