Sundance 2020: Day 10

Boys State Wins Grand Jury Prize US Documentary

Festival Director James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 21st to February 2nd.

Festival Day 8

Up at 9am today but nothing on the schedule until noon, when I attended the volunteer screening of Boys State at the Holiday Village Cinemas. Directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (The Overnighters), it explores the long running Boys State program, founded by the American Legion to teach high schoolers about the inner workings of American democracy. Many politicians have been alumni of the program and each state runs its own annual weeklong camp, which culminates in elections. The film focusses its attention on Texas, a perennial “purple” state that nevertheless is home to a lot of conservative boys.

The first part of the film is actually kind of horrifying, with displays of machismo and tribalism that remind the audience of the worst sort of jingoism and ignorance. But gradually, characters emerge and they are all intelligent and complex. By the end, we realize that, forced into the shape of the current electoral system, people will sacrifice their ethics and their friendships, just to win. But there are also incredible displays of connection, loyalty, and admiration. Leaders emerge and are thrown into competition. Lives are definitely changed, and we realize that there is still hope. The filmmakers revealed that there are also Girls State competitions and I found myself wanting to see that film next. And as one of the boys in the film wonders, “why isn’t it just People State?” Perhaps the program needs to change, but I’m certainly glad that it exists.

The picture above is from a few days later, when the film won the Grand Jury Prize for US Documentary. The award is well deserved, and I discovered during their acceptance speech that the filmmakers are a married couple.

I came back to HQ to spend an hour or so, but there was really nothing for me to do, so I headed home for a short nap. There had been invites sent out to a Sundance “Dance” party at The Shop, but it was unclear if my volunteer badge would get me in. I headed over early and even though there were barely 20 people in line at the opening hour, the event staff wouldn’t let me in. I spotted Jamie, another Artist Relations volunteer, and we headed to Main Street to get a drink. For the first time since 2015, I had a pizza slice and some beers at Davanza’s, a local spot just off Main, and we ran into someone that Jamie knew from working together at another film festival. Sylvia is a publicist from New York who was working on a couple of films but who seemed to have wrapped up her duties. We spent an hour at Davanza’s then tried to get into High West Saloon, which appeared to be closed, although there were lots of people still inside. Instead, we ended up at the No-Name Saloon on Main, which was packed with locals. It was nice in a way to be part of a regular “Townie Thursday” (as we dubbed it), and we spent a pleasant few hours talking about the film and festival industries. Both Jamie and Sylvia are very knowledgeable and experienced veterans. I got home just around 1am, but in my rush to get a shuttle out to Deer Valley, I lost my favourite pair of reading glasses. Luckily, I brought a spare set.

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