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What to stream: ‘Girls State’ the latest fascinating project from documentary filmmakers

Katie Walsh – Tribune News Service (TNS)

On Friday, April 5, the documentary “Girls State” premieres on Apple TV+, the much-anticipated sequel to the lauded 2020 documentary “Boys State,” also on Apple TV+. Directed by accomplished documentarians Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, the film takes an anthropological approach to studying the inner workings of the weeklong political camps for American high schoolers sponsored by the American Legion. During each session the teenagers are required to create a fully working government through a series of elections, a microcosm of our own system.

While structured in the same way, with fly-on-the-wall cameras following a select few students during their experience, “Girls State” is naturally a very different film. Filmed at a Missouri university just weeks before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade, women’s rights and reproductive issues are a hot-button issue for the girls, among the other teenage troubles such as social anxieties, future worries and other personal issues that are thrown into stark relief in such a setting. But once again, it’s a fascinating documentary that argues that while the kids might be alright, there are certain aspects of the system that need an overhaul.

It’s yet another fascinating film from the duo of Moss and McBaine, who have collaborated on many documentaries, which intersect at the juncture of the political and personal.

Their most recent film was last year’s “The Mission,” a complicated portrait of the young American missionary John Chau, who was killed in 2018 when he attempted to make contact with the isolated Sentinelese tribe on North Sentinel Island. Using interviews with loved ones and John’s diaries and letters, the filmmakers offered a look at why Chau set out on such a dangerous trip, diving in headfirst to examine his complex motivation. Released by NatGeo, “The Mission” is streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.

McBaine has been a longtime producer for Moss, and before they collaborated as co-directors on “Boys State” and “The Mission,” she produced several films he directed including 2021’s “Mayor Pete,” a campaign trail doc about the presidential run of current Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Stream it on Prime Video.

Moss’ breakout documentary was the 2014 Sundance hit “The Overnighters” (also produced by McBaine), about a North Dakota pastor offering shelter in his church to nomadic workers arriving in his oil boomtown looking for work. Once again a complex portrait of a complicated person whose life reflected a specific political reality, “The Overnighters” is a moving, surprising film that captures this moment in time in such granular detail because Moss immersed himself in the culture of this town. Stream it on Kanopy or rent it elsewhere online.

Moss also directed all five episodes of the 2019 Netflix documentary miniseries “The Family,” following the work of journalist Jeff Sharlet, who has written about a secretive conservative Christian group known as “The Family” and their influence on American politics. It’s a chilling and sobering uncovering of one of the shadowy organizations that has an outsize influence on our country. He also directed an episode of the 2018 Netflix miniseries“Dirty Money,” which looks at scandal and corruption in business, with Moss’ episode (Season 1, Episode 2) examining payday lenders. Stream both on Netflix.

Moss has an upcoming film called “War Game” on the way, but check out “Girls State” and “Boys State” on Apple TV+, and the rest of he and McBaine’s political docs, covering a wide array of fascinating topics.

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(Katie Walsh is the Tribune News Service film critic and co-host of the “Miami Nice” podcast.)

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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