The Youth Governor: inspiring students who hope to become future politicians | Documentary films
Epeople say they want to see more political involvement among young people, but the popular image of young politicians is not the most flattering. In fiction and in the public imagination, they are creepy little careerists following in the footsteps of Tracy Flick, gifted individuals whose brave, go-getter attitudes mask a more unsettling ambition in a close flirtation with an outright lust for power. . What kind of teenager aspires to be a hall monitor for all of America?
With their new documentary The Youth Governor, brothers/co-directors Matthew and Jaron Halmy hope to set the record straight by presenting a humanist counterpoint. The Culver City natives both participated in the extensive youth and government program of the YMCA of California as children, and remember those days of spirited debate and democracy in action as some of the fondest of their youth. The comrades they encountered during this time were passionate and principled, leaving a lifelong impact that would keep the Halmys returning as volunteer counselors as adults. Surrounded once again by this crackling energy that runs through a new generation, they saw a vision of hope for the future of the American electorate and now wish to inform the rest of the world: the children are indeed well.
“When we were younger, some of the most basic aspects of this process resonated with us: public speaking, brotherhood and camaraderie,” Jaron told the Guardian from his home in Los Angeles. “But as we got older, we noticed that the political calculus of the campaign became more advanced. Everything seemed more complex, if not quite real. Children take this very seriously. »
Today’s Model Youth and Government Legislature brings together approximately 4,000 participants representing more than 50 “delegations” divided by district and challenges them to play a real role in the building of the State Capitol. High school students form parties, nominate representatives, and run for key leadership positions with an adult platform and campaign strategy team. In the age of social media, free-for-all has evolved into a self-contained social ecosystem, as daily events and main characters take on a second life as memes shared through the intra-organizational messaging system Yodel. “It’s so advanced and detailed, this program — there are committees, chairs, the secretary of state’s office running all of this behind the scenes,” Jaron says. “There is a culture within the delegations. There are so many stories that it wasn’t immediately clear where to start.
The highest and most prestigious office is that of Youth Governor, and the Halmys have come to accept that their best bet for a viable structure would be to follow that thread rather than the full investigation they originally had in mind. . For eight years they strolled through meetings, planning sessions and speeches in hopes of capturing the electricity they felt when they were on the other side, but their images were never completely consistent. (“We’ve been doing this for so long, I just hit a wall,” Jaron says.) Until 2019, when a crop of eager applicants offered documentarians a run that could serve as both a microcosm and a foil to big league American politics. From a group of highly motivated competitors, three delegates advance to the final round of voting and face crises not so far off the national scale. A rising frontrunner gets a surprise in October when a video of him endorsing a controversial Betsy DeVos stance surfaces; a young progressive woman finds herself at the head of the conservative faction and must reconcile her beliefs with her base.
“Someone asked us if these kids were more problem-aware, hopeful, and change-oriented than previous generations,” Matthew says. “And our answer is no, each generation of young people is at the forefront of the challenges of their time. There will always be a core of kids excited about it. What’s different is that Generation Z plays chess, while we only play checkers. They are so advanced in understanding how to effect change and engage with voters. They go so strong.
“People say the kids cared and now they don’t care, or they didn’t care and now they care,” Jaron adds. “The only thing that really changes are the tools they have. Internet, this Yodel messaging platform, have a huge influence on the evolution of the process.
Although the makers ruled out any mention of Trump — they thought it would be a “red run” derailing the film’s concepts — the alt-right nevertheless rears its ugly head in the film’s most shocking twist. Piper Samuels, the centrist candidate leading the far-right voting bloc, is under targeted attack in a scathing private messaging group with misogynistic and anti-Semitic memes. A contingent of hatemongers are eating away at the party like termites, but instead of viewing them as the future, the leadership is proceeding with the isolation and stifling that Americans hoped for from the GOP. Bipartisan sanity prevails in a scenario that would seem idealistic fantasy if it didn’t actually happen. “I think young people are more receptive to love and friendship than adults,” says Matthew. “They are less marked by betrayals. I think it’s inherent in youth…Because they watch adults run the world without being part of it, there’s something about the viewer’s perspective that gives you a clearer view.
This optimistic view of the next generation sets the Halmys apart from those of comparable works, the most notable of which is the recent doc Boys State. The film chronicles a similar gender-segregated model government program in the heartland of Texas, known to the California circuit as a sort of rival. The precocity of the subjects borders on the reject, and the camera watches their articulation of injured masculinity with healthy cynicism. The Halmy brothers refrained from seeing Boys State in the spirit of keeping their eyes on your own newspaper, but they deliberately went for a kinder angle with their collaborators. “We didn’t want to drag the kids through the mud,” says Matthew. “As adult filmmakers, we don’t want to put them in situations designed to bring out the craziness of modern American politics through them. It really touches them.
Both Matthew and Jaron emphasize how much it all means to the people who make it through, many of whom have their life-changing road to Damascus moment there on the floor of the Senate chamber. But even those who don’t embark on a career of handshakes and baby-kissing still learn invaluable skills, from public speaking to tactical thinking to communication practices. And while they couldn’t find a place for it in the film, the brothers have cherished memories of nightly camaraderie events where everyone hangs out and hangs out with potentially important people. For an age group that tends to organize their identity around extracurricular activities, it’s not just an extracurricular activity, but a way of life.
“What makes Youth Governor so amazing, and what we wanted to show with this, is how kids really get lost in the experience of this simulation they’re doing,” says Matthew. “It’s not real, but in their minds, the competition and its stakes are very real. You get into it, and then you go back to your city, and you wake up Monday morning, and you trudge back to your high school, and you’re like, “What the fuck is this? And you realize that was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to you.