The next American presidential election is looming in the relatively near future, and conflict-weary citizens are going to need to brace themselves for the inevitable upswing in politicking, propaganda, and flag-waving that will come with it. But there’s a bright spot on the horizon, in the form of an election that’s both a lot less fraught and just as dramatic. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s outstanding documentary Boys State is due for release soon, and the first trailer shows why it may be the strongest, most entertaining, and most immediately relevant documentary 2020 has to offer.
Moss and McBaine’s film centers on one edition of the annual leadership conference that takes place in states across the country, where young people (split by gender — there’s also a Girls State event) gather to form ersatz political parties, create a miniature government, and put up their candidates for election. It’s a social experiment and an early exercise in political leadership, and in this extremely lively documentary, it’s also a telling look at how the sausage is made in American politics.
Moss and McBaine followed a handful of teenagers through the 2018 edition of Boys State in Texas, where the event’s politics have a strong conservative bent. Decrying abortion and gun control is part of the platform, even for the secret progressives, who learn to hide their real beliefs in hopes of getting elected. They’re frank and confessional with Moss and McBaine’s cameras, treating the whole thing as a war game and a learning exercise for their own planned political futures. But out in public, the teenagers let their ambitions and their emotions get the best of them, and they fight for their party’s dominance in creative and sometimes horrifying ways. It’s a fantastically insightful documentary, but it’s also just a lot of fun to watch.
Boys State is aiming at a July 31 limited theatrical release, and it will be streaming on Apple TV Plus on August 14.