“Riveting” and “Texas State Board of Education” are not words that are often found in the same sentence. But that’s the reception a new documentary about the education board is receiving.
The Revisionaries, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival Saturday, follows the social conservatives and creationists who dominate the SBOE as they hashed out new science and history curriculum standards during Don McLeroy’s final year as chairman.
Director Scott Thurman, who has an M.F.A. in documentary film from the University of North Texas, told the Texas Tribune‘s Reeve Hamilton that the film is intended as a “character portrait” of the people involved in shaping education policy. The Revisionaries also illustrates how classroom content is created and why Texas has such an outsized influence in textbook publishing (Texas has “such a big market, so publishers cater to it,” Thurman said.)
The film received rave reviews after its Tribeca premiere. At Indie Wire, Gabe Toro was fascinated by McLeroy:
The most magnetic personality in The Revisionaries belongs to Don McLeroy, who describes himself as a Young Earth Creationist. Believing “education is too important not to be polticized,” he wields a heavy hammer as the leader of the panel, believing that his views are the only views, while he cordially offers up his thoughts on evolution and other scientific theories. When dealing with challenges to his views that the Earth is 6,000 years old, he appeals to his people, demanding “Somebody’s gotta stand up to these… ‘experts.'” Much of what his constituents believe, which carries over to the arguments occuring in the court, is that they have to be strategic about their comments — religion must not be proved, but be presented in a way where it is impossible to disprove. When everything is a theory, nothing is a fact, and when more reasonable viewpoints conquer McLeroy’s “we walked with the dinosaurs” philosophy, it’s considered a “failure of strategy.”
At the Wrap, Steve Pond says the film is “damning and devastating as it lays out a system that puts, for example, science education under the oversight of McLeroy, who believes that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs lived alongside humans.” He goes on to laud Thurman for his artful hand: “Thurman never turns his film into an advocacy doc the way the way he easily could have done, but he has produced a frightening look at the politicalization of education, and at an arena too often dominated by what one SMU scientist calls ‘a flammable mixture of ignorance and arrogance.'”
At Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore was of the same mind, writing that The Revisionaries “encapsulates controversy without sensationalism.” He continues:
Americans inclined to read “Texan” as a synonym for “extremist” will be spellbound by Scott Thurman‘s The Revisionaries, which both finds another example in which a few Lone Star fundamentalists influence the whole country and demonstrates that, contrary to popular perception, many in the state oppose their views fiercely.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Bud Kennedy attended the film’s Texas premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival Sunday and filed a dispatch from the panel following the screening. In that panel discussion, former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar “accused critics of the controversial board of ‘discrimination’ against religious views like in ‘pre-Holocaust Germany,'” Kennedy wrote.
WATCH the trailer: