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Robert MacDougall and Steven Garza in “Boys State,” now streaming on Apple TV+.?

These days, we’ve had about everything that we can bear to swallow when it comes to politics, especially now that we’re inching closer to the elections. As much as politics populate our social feeds, there are particular articles or works of art that can cause you to pause, recenter, and feel the ground again amid all the fire.

The excellently realized documentary Boys State is one such work.

Political documentary filmmaking is a risky territory. It’s very easy for filmmakers to inject their own opinions and paint the material with a thick layer of red or blue. However, audiences don’t have to sweat the worry about Boys State, a film from directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss (The Overnighters) that follows a group of teenage boys in Texas who band together to build a representative government from the ground up. (Think Lord of the Flies but without all the murder. Plenty of debates and verbal jabs, though.)

With the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary and noise from being the biggest acquisition for any documentary in the festival’s history (A24 and Apple TV Plus bought it for a reported $12 million) under its belt, it’s clear that the film had an impact on people. After seeing it, the power can be felt and understood. It truly is a smart piece of filmmaking that should be shown in schools (or at home, virtually). It promotes discussion, and a good one at that.

It has a balanced perspective and shows people from all walks of life. It captures reality as it happens. The filmmakers didn’t know how this was going to end or who was going to win the mock elections. They didn’t even know if the people they followed out of 1,100 boys would go on to do big things in the program. They took a leap of faith and found individuals who are part of the country's genetic makeup. The answers to the questions it brings up - gun laws, abortion, immigration or free speech - are not clear cut. Everything is open for us and its subjects to determine whether we should work together to fix the country or keep our pitchforks sharp with no end in sight.

Things get heated throughout. There are times you wish you could reach through the screen to grab the subject to ask them what the hell is up with their logic. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the filmmakers to sit by and be a fly on the wall, burying any thought to challenge anyone. But Boys State teaches you a lot about listening and resilience. These individuals go on some incredible journeys, and we get a taste of what they have achieved after the cameras stopped rolling. (The film was shot in 2018.)

Your emotions will run the gamut, leading to a conclusion that is touching and hopeful of our future leaders. Education is the crucial factor here, and expect to grow from watching these Texas boys.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

 

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