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SXSW 2021: “Kid Candidate” Documentary Film Review

A goofy viral video leading to an earnest political campaign doesn’t sound as far-fetched in 2021 as it might have a decade ago. And that’s how the story in “Kid Candidate” begins. Musician Hayden Pedigo and his filmmaking friend, Alex Fairbanks, decided to make a video in which Pedigo would use a measuring tape to see how Amarillo literally measures up. The two were inspired by Harmony Korine’s films of the 1990s, like “Gummo,” and their absurdist bent. Then, it turned into a real run for Amarillo City Council, Place 1.

Director Jasmine Stodel follows Pedigo’s political aspirations throughout the election process, but the documentary provides much more than that. We learn how Pedigo was raised (home-schooled by religious parents), what the city of Amarillo is like (vibrant in some places while struggling in others) and how local politics works (mostly money). This is a film about how a joke morphed into Pedigo’s longing to really help his hometown. At one point in the documentary, he says that he wants creatives to stay in Amarillo instead of traveling to other cities for work, and he wants to inspire people (especially young people) to vote. The documentary is a Gunpowder & Sky production in association with XTR, and it’s part of SXSW’s Documentary Feature Competition for 2021.

Hayden Pedigo for Amarillo City Council 2019 | Photo Courtesy Hayden Pedigo

As someone who has called Texas home for more than half of my life, I have to admit I didn’t know much about Amarillo going into this movie. It was absolutely eye-opening, from the all-too-common economic differences put into the North and South sides of the cities to the large South Sudanese population that calls the city home. This documentary gives us glimpses into Hayden’s life, and it does follow his city council run, but the best thing that it gives the audience is a look at what life is like for other residents of Amarillo.

Agol Aloak, a student and South Sudanese refugee, says, “I don’t want to leave this place, but I do want to see change.” David Lovejoy, the first Vice President of the NAACP in Amarillo, talks on camera about the ways that Amarillo refuses to change with the rest of the country — or even other cities in Texas — with regard to monuments to and schools named after southern Civil War veterans. And in a series of talking heads of business owners in the city, it’s clear that Pedigo has struck a chord with plenty of locals.

There is a lot of discussion of the political machinations of Amarillo specifically in “Kid Candidate,” too. A wealthy group of elites called Amarillo Matters supports certain candidates to keep the same people in charge, year in and year out. They even put out a voter guide, which Pedigo reads from in the documentary. They declined to be a part of the film, but Mayor Ginger Nelson did take part. She invokes Christianity quite a bit in her talking points, which gives us yet another look at how traditional Amarillo really is as a city.

Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer and the co-founder of The Innocence Project of Texas, is a somewhat contrarian character who shows up repeatedly in the documentary, and it’s often hard to tell whether or not he’s supportive of the 24-year-old candidate. He eventually becomes a mentor to Pedigo, though they butt heads often. Pedigo even says, “It’s kind of nice to have someone on your side who’s hurling the worst criticisms at you.” It’s an interesting, if sometimes uncomfortable, dynamic that’s thrown into the mix.

Hayden Pedigo performing at SXSW 2019 | Photo Courtesy Gunpowder & Sky

Another interesting aspect of this documentary is the pop culture of it all: Pedigo is a musician, and at one point the film crew follows him and his wife, L’Hannah, to Austin to play at SXSW. Texas Monthly Senior Editor Michael Hall comments on Pedigo’s run in a couple of talking heads, and SXSW veteran and President of HITTS Magazine Karen Glauber says of Pedigo, “Everyone’s going to tell him that he’s crazy, and that’s terrific.” It almost highlights how small and insular creative communities can be in Texas, even though it’s such a large state.

Local music plays a big role in the film: We hear Pedigo’s music, but also hip hop from Amarillo artist “Koola,” also known as Randolph Sims, who participated in the documentary too. It makes “Kid Candidate” really feel like a community effort in the same way that the road to election night takes a whole community. But the documentary follows up post-election, with a sort of afterword that looks not only at where Pedigo and his family is but also at the changes being made throughout the city of Amarillo — and some residents’ changing attitudes about taking part in local elections. It truly shows what a huge impact one person can have on the future, which makes it the rare political documentary that may leave you with hope.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Hayden and L’Hannah Pedigo

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