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Hayden Pedigo didn’t set out to become City Councillor for Amarillo. After his spoof, Harmony Korine-style campaign video went viral, the 24-year-old suddenly found himself in the running for elections in his Texan panhandle town. This funny, unlikely new documentary from director Jasmine Stodel shows that personality and a few genius stunts have a lot to do with running a great campaign.
Director: Jasmine Stodel
Release date: March 16, 2021 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
The title is apt: throughout this film, Pedigo feels just like a kid, running around, playing election with his friends, all of them shooting a video for fun and not realising how popular it would become. The first of his campaign videos — really not more than a bizarre couple of shots edited together — shows Pedigo throwing a folding office chair around his town and measuring distances with a tape measure. In the second, he’s ‘rebuilding the town’ by hurling bricks; ‘shattering the glass ceiling’ by breaking glass; and ‘running for office’ by literally running up the path towards the county civic offices. Call him what you will, but Pedigo seems to have the gift of unwitting comedy.
In fact, the stunt became quite high-profile. After gaining traction on its first day with over 70,000 views, Pedigo began to entertain the idea that he could take this mayoral run seriously. Rolling Stone covered the campaign in a 2019 article and it garnered press and publicity across the state of Texas. Recent film comparisons could include grassroots chronicle Running with Beto and festival favourites Boys State, as well as Harmony Korine’s canon: Gummo, Spring Breakers, and The Beach Bum. As Boys State showed a few ambitious, talented candidates preparing to run for elections, so Kid Candidate focuses on one of the more unusual campaign cases.
At the age of 24, Pedigo hasn’t had what you might call an average upbringing. He was raised in a deeply conservative, Christian household, homeschooled along with his sister from infancy to high school. Moving out of his parents’ house at 18, Pedigo was ready to launch a career as an experimental musician on the side of his day job, propelling him to minor fame in the festival circuit. He was even invited to perform at South by Southwest and has been profiled by a few major outlets. He describes music as an escape from all the alienation he felt as a child, and you could say he used this as a springboard for his ideas.
Pedigo is now married to L’Hannah, but despite his Christian roots, he didn’t set out to use his campaign as an overtly religious mission in the same way that his rival, incumbent City of Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson did throughout hers. Rather, he treated the whole campaign as a rebellion against his parents’ beliefs and an outlet of his own desire for independence. Throughout the film, he cites his campaign as a big source of conflict within the family.
And it’s not the only unorthodox part of his run. In fact, during his run he barely touched on policy at all, until realising that the people of his city do have concerns they need addressing. Awareness that the city’s council has pulled funding for leisure spaces and then seeing crime rates increase was a big part of his idea of reform in the city. After all, if the city could afford a new screen at the stadium, he argues during one radio interview, why shouldn’t it pump money into the neighbourhoods that need it most?
Many of his videos take a tongue-in-cheek tone: “This budget was created with a budget of $0…I have accepted no donations for this campaign.” His third video refers to radical influential progressives like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who’ve receive zero corporate sponsorship, though he comes under fire at a Tea Party group meeting for his use of the term ‘progressive’. It’s unpopular with right-leaning citizens in MAGA merch and shows Pedigo, who has up until now been light and breezy about his campaign, some of the uglier side of politics. One thing’s for certain, this documentary, its subject and its treatment are uniquely Texan and piece together just a small part of a rapidly shifting America.
The documentary drives home the angle that it’s a generation, class and state divide that holds people back from voting. Among the local Sudanese community, as well as in marginalised groups, are many first-time voters, and only express an interest in politics in the wake of Pedigo’s unlikely campaign. He’s a little shy, a little self-conscious, but with the help and mentorship of campaign veterans, he pulls together a campaign reaching people who need change.
I enjoyed the documentary’s backstory setup and handling of the underdog campaign, but I think I would have liked to have seen more of Pedigo’s social life, the views of colleagues and family, especially conflicting views. At only 68 minutes, this short feature feels like it has the potential to reach the scale of all the usual Primary coverage films we’re used to seeing — if it were just a little longer. Still, it has enough footage and comedy to engage and win viewers over to Pedigo’s individual quirks.
Ultimately, Pedigo came second in the runnings, losing out to conservative candidate Ginger Nelson, while all incumbents held their positions. Yet he beat other candidates through hard work, articulate speeches, a lot of friendly support and a bit of luck. It’s easy to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, but by the end of the doc, we see a real change of heart and Hayden’s newfound passion for representing the young people and marginalised communities of Amarillo. He brought people together, and the contrast between her muted victory party and Hayden’s celebrations with friends, family and first-time voters really is quite unique.