Alone in his dorm room, Steven Garza enjoyed a box of tacos while scrolling on Twitter when he saw the tweet. The documentary film, “Boys State,” had just won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
“I was just running around and screaming,” government sophomore Garza said. “Who do I need to call? I need to call my mom (and say), ‘Mom, we just won!’”
Every June, politically interested Texas high school students spend a week on The University of Texas campus. The historic program known as “Boys State” engages its participants in a simulated state government, where the students pass votes, make speeches and run for office.
In August 2020, a documentary titled “Boys State'' starring Garza was released about the program on Apple TV+. The film takes place during the program’s 2018 session in which Garza runs for governor — the highest position at Boys State. After he lost the mock election, Garza later won the hearts of viewers at the Sundance Film Festival when the documentary premiered in January 2020.
“Not only (was) Boys State a transformative experience, (it) let me know, yes, you can give a speech,” Garza said. “And yes, you can win over hearts and minds. And yes, you can make a difference in somebody’s life so long as you stay true to your convictions and your morals in the face of adversity.”
In 2017, the program made national headlines when the simulated Texas government voted to secede from the United States. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, a married couple and Californian filmmakers, saw the news and decided to make a documentary about the program the following year.
“The boys were clearly feeling this political discontent,” Moss said. “We thought, ‘Maybe this (documentary) is a way to have a conversation about politics and this moment through the eyes of young people.’ That was really exciting to us.”
A month before the June program began, the directors traveled to Houston, Texas and met Garza at the Boys State orientation. They immediately knew they wanted their camera to follow him throughout the weeklong program.
“Steven is not the loudest in the room, but he has a kind of wisdom beyond his age,” Moss said.
After shooting for the film finished, Garza later went on to work on Wendy Davis’ political campaign where he met his best friend, Joe Cascino.
“I enjoy being Steven’s reality check,” Cascino said. “I think that after his 15 minutes of fame are over — which again, I’ll always clown him for — he will be very involved in serving his community.”
Moss and McBaine also still keep in touch with Garza, who said they encouraged him to attend college and are like a family to him.
“Whenever I need to make a big decision in my life, I talk to my mom, and then the second (people) I talk to are Jesse and Amanda,” Garza said. “If it (weren’t) for them, I wouldn’t be in college.”
As for now, Garza is focused on his classes and interning at Unite America, a grassroots political organization. He is also still actively involved in promoting the documentary.
“I have a pretty interesting life as a college student,” Garza said. “I get to do what I love, which is politics. I get to get an education. And at the same time, I get to promote this project made by wonderful people, full of wonderful people and share it with wonderful people.”