Since 1996, the student body of Townsend Harris High School has been staging the longest running civics experiment in the form of simulating the American electoral process against the backdrop of the real one. In these elaborate mock elections that span an entire semester, candidates must run the whole gamut of an election Grand simulation replete with fake money, media pundits, campaign ads,
debates, electioneering, super PACs, and candidates' spouses. The Candidates dives into the halls of Townsend Harris High School during the months leading up to the election.
Septermber 2016, ten weeks before the Presidential election, Pakistani-American Misbah portrays Hillary Clinton and goes up against Ukranian-American Daniel, who hams it up as a cocky Donald Trump. Also-rans Raya and Asian-American Gary as Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are also part of the proceedings for good measure. As each teen wholeheartedly embodies their alto ego and reenact the rigors of the divisive political campaign, hard truths about politics are revealed.
Just like their counterparts, Misbah and Daniel attach each other in classroom visits and ads. Misbah is out to prove that a Muslim woman can be President, even if it is just high school. But with underclassmen encouraged to vote for the candidate who gives the best performance, Daniel has his work cut out for him as he works his charm and distills Trump's personality into something more palatable for the liberal student body. But he soon finds himself the villain of the narrative when Trump's misogyny is unearthed. His next move further alienates him from his peers.
The penultimate event arrives in the form of the debates where Misbah and Daniel get to officially go head to head for the first time since the beginning of the year. But they are thrown a curveball when the Green and Libertarian candidates join them on stage and and come out with strong performances. As the dust settles, the election is anyone's game.
FILMMAKERS' STATEMENT: "Schools are microcosms of society. There is so much to learn from what goes down in the halls. There is also a lot of responsibility. From the beginning, we strove to be objective and never came at it with an agenda. It's our duty to our subjects -- students who are playing a part and exploring their political values. They allowed us to capture it, and that's a great honor for us as filmmakers. The film brings audiences both the joys and pains of our political system via high school. High school is a time for most people when your worldview begins to shift away from your home life, and outwards towards the larger world."
"We want people to leave optimistic about the future and younger generations. Civic education is so important and the film shows that. These students are so intelligent and truly care about educating themselves about policy and the ins and outs of the political system. If more people approached politics in as thoughtful a way as these students we'd have a much kinder world."
-Alexandra Stergiou and Lexi Henigman