David weighs the risk and reward to see Tenent in theater while Jeff raves about #SLASHTAG, the hashtag used to recommend movies to the whole gang.
For the feature of the week, David, Devindra, and Jeff are joined by Roxana Hadadi to review Boys State. See what this winner of Sundance Documentary Grand Jury, directed and produced by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, has to says about our politics today.

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“That’s politics … I think,” remarks Robert MacDougall, one of the subjects of Boys State, to the filmmakers off-screen. The line encapsulates the dual nature of the documentary, now streaming on Apple TV+, as both a potential microcosm for American political campaigning … or just a discrete experience worth examining for its own merits.

Documentarians Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s observed and narrativized feature examines the eponymous citizenship program, a week-long conference of mock governance and electioneering, during its 2018 iteration with Texas teenage boys. It’s easy to get caught up in the film’s irresistible characters: the realpolitik of René Otero, the shock and awe of Ben Feinstein, the relational authenticity of Steven Garza. Boys State is hardly self-contained in its value, however.

This film’s relevance is not just as a yearbook documenting a past event but an embodiment of forces that shape the present and will continue to influence the future. Steven addresses a large crowd at Texas’ Democratic National Convention audience in the film’s epilogue, after all. This might be the first time we meet all these men, though it likely will not be the last. And the next time we encounter them, the stakes might not be as speculative as they are in the Boys State program.

The subjects of Boys State rank among the first wave of so-called Generation Z entering the arena of elected politics in earnest. With their short yet expansive window into a group of civically minded teens, Moss and McBaine have a unique perspective into how a rising cohort could transform America over the coming decades. While the directors avoid opining on the significance of what they filmed within the confines of the narrative, I spoke to them over Zoom to elaborate and extrapolate. Our conversation covered not only who Gen Z is but also how they might campaign in and govern the country. They remained modest about the implications of their work, yet it would not surprise me to look back at Boys State years down the line and see this as a film as prescient as it is insightful.

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Boys State trailer

Boys State, the new documentary from directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss (The Overnighters), was one of the most talked-about films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary filmmaking, and ended up being acquired by A24 and AppleTV+ for $12 million – the biggest acquisition for any documentary in the festival’s entire history.

Now the first trailer has arrived, and you can see what all the hype is about. Read More »

sundance sales record

Update: Deadline is now reporting that the Palm Springs deal is actually worth $22 million, not just the $17,500,000.69 that was previously reported. Apparently there is a “built in bonus structure” involved which was not mentioned in the official press release, making it an even more impressive acquisition and bolstering its position as the biggest Sundance deal in history. Our original article follows.

Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs just broke the nicest records at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival this year. Hulu and Neon acquired the romantic-comedy for $17.5 million…and 69 cents. The number broke Sundance sale records for the biggest acquisition deal, sailing past Nate Parker’s 2016 film The Birth of a Nation by, yes, 69 cents. And while Hulu and Neon made a historic deal worthy of a few winks and nudges, Apple and A24 celebrated a more serious record-breaking deal in their acquisition of Boys Statea buzzy documentary that at $12 million, became the highest-paid documentary in Sundance history.

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Boys State Review

One attends a festival in hopes of finding a film that leaves you giddy with how good it is, seeking always for that thrill gained from a sense of discovery, uncovering that gem before it gets to be seen by a larger group of people. It’s almost like a drug, where you take hit after hit of cinema just waiting for one to fully give you that rush. 

This is one of those movies you spend days and days just hoping to uncover.

Boys State follows a bunch of high-strung Texan teens as they head to the Capitol in Austin to engage in political machinations. For decades the American Legion has sponsored “Boys State” events ostensibly in order to improve education in civics. A kind of summer camp for political junkies, this week-long event begins with the 1200 or so kids divvied up into separate parties – the Nationalists and the Federalists – and then tasked with picking party leadership, defining a platform, passing bills and, above all, electing a governor that represents the entire group.

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Streamer's Guide to Sundance 2020

It’s easy to look at a Sundance lineup with rose-colored glasses and think that there’s going to be some major breakout hits. We do it every year because, after all, hope springs eternal! 2020’s edition looks like the rare slate to premiere in Park City that will truly earn all of the pre-festival drooling.

A glance at the directors unveiling their new films at the first Sundance of the new decade looks like a veritable “who’s who” of filmmakers who were just on the cusp of breakthrough in the 2010s: Eliza Hittman, Josephine Decker, Janicza Bravo, and countless others. It’s also a welcome return for many directors who have been dormant for far too long: Miranda July, Julie Taymor, Benh Zeitlin. Many other names that, unfortunately, barely register upon scanning the lineup may leave Utah with a million-dollar distribution deal for their film and a star on the rise.

But none of them came from nowhere. Even if their feature directing debut nabbed a spot in the Sundance lineup, they all have some prior work that portends – or at least contextualizes – their ascendancy. If you’re not attending the festival, here’s how you can get in on the ground floor of some of these directors on the rise without even leaving the comfort of your home cinema.

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