Despite it being the weekend, today is another one movie day for me. I spent much of the day relaxing after a long week and relied more on comfort media choices to fill my day. Still, I spent some time this evening crossing another film off of the Oscar shortlist. While much of the last week I’ve been focusing on the international films, today I returned to the documentary wing.
Boys State (2020, Dir. Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss)
Boys State is a documentary capturing a mock government event ran by more than a thousand Texan, high school boys. The film spends its runtime documenting a single year’s event by following four students. Two of the students run the respective fake parties, the Federalists and the unfortunately named Nationalists. The other two are running to be the gubernatorial nominee for the Nationalist party.
The politics of the students on screen are predictably largely conservative given their residence. This combined with the lack of nuance exhibited by most teenagers leads to some uncomfortable moments. Much of the political discourse debated in the mock congress is heavily influenced by the edgelord nature of young men. The topic of secession is frequently brought up, and that combined with the extreme jingoism expressed in speeches hints at fascism.
These uncomfortable moments bring about my main objection to the film. The film lacks a distinct directorial voice. Everything is merely captured on camera and distilled into little more than video blog from the boys present. The extremist fervor evokes no response from the directors, as if they are going out of their way to have no political voice. A too biased director can ruin a film, but Boys State proves that it’s possible to go too far the other way. While non-fiction, a documentary isn’t just a list of facts. Vision and messages are required to bring a topic to the larger world.