The annual 50-state student government conference Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion, first came to filmmaker Jesse Moss’ attention after reading about the Texas edition in the Washington Post. At each summer’s conferences, boys gather to set up a mock-state legislature — they organize political campaigns, run for office, give speeches, write bills and debate it at all their respective state’s capital.
What made the Texas edition so special? In 2017, as covered by the Post, the young men at Boys State voted for Texas to secede from the United States.
Moss and his filmmaking partner Amanda McBaine believed that in a Donald Trump nation severely divided along blue and red state lines, Texas Boys State could provide answers into the origins of why we all can’t get along. So they opted to cover the 2018 summer edition of Texas Boys State with a 28-person crew — large by documentary standards — including six DPs.
Steven Garza, who along with Moss sat down with us for the Boys State film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees awards-season event, was one of the sincere voices that Apple Original Films and A24’s documentary captured; a young Bernie Sanders in the making, if you will, he struggled to be a circle instead of a square at a largely right-leaning conference. Nothing makes you cry more than watching Garza cry at the end of a defeated, yet personally triumphant week.
Boys State is nominated for two Emmys including Outstanding Documentary/Nonfiction special and Outstanding Director Documentary/Nonfiction program for Moss and McBaine. The documentary won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Check out the panel video above.