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SXSW doc 'Kid Candidate' follows musician's viral Amarillo city council campaign

David Gay
Amarillo Globe-News
Hayden Pedigo and wife L'Hannah pose in front of the Texas Capitol. Pedigo, a musician who went viral with a campaign video, is the subject of SXSW doc "Kid Candidate."

During the Amarillo City Council election in May 2019, each of the incumbents retained their seats by a significant margin. One race still worth learning about, though: Candidate Hayden Pedigo, an experimental musician, received 2,089 votes to incumbent Elaine Hays’ 10,828 votes, according to Amarillo Globe-News reports. But before that defeat, Pedigo went viral for a Harmony Korine-inspired campaign video, and two years after the election, his journey is the subject of a documentary that premieres March 16 as part of SXSW Online.

“Kid Candidate,” directed by Jasmine Stodel, follows Pedigo through the election in his hometown. The film from production studio Gunpowder & Sky is competing in the festival’s documentary feature competition.

Pedigo said he reached out to executive producer Jude Harris with Gunpowder & Sky prior to running for the city council seat, calling it a “shot in the dark.” This was Pedigo’s first time running for public office.

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“Having the camera crew there was simultaneously more stressful but then kind of comforting, because they filmed me from Day One, even going down to city hall to file to be on the ballot," he said. "Obviously, it’s uncomfortable walking in there with six people with cameras and boom mics. You are drawing a lot of attention to yourself. But also, they kind of gave me a lot of confidence, because whenever I was nervous, there were six people who were like, 'You can do it, you’ve got it, we’re here,'” he said. 

Stodel said she found many layers within Pedigo as a subject, from the silly campaign videos to his music to him finding a way to get his message out in a serious way to the community. 

Homero Salinas Jr. and Jasmine Stodel conduct an interview during the filming of "Kid Candidate."

“I wanted people to know that he wasn’t just a persona,” she said. “He is a real person with real emotions and real fears. I wanted the audience to relate to him … and I wanted to show his vulnerability.” 

Stodel said she did not know anything about Amarillo prior to filming this movie.

“Amarillo is a very diverse place. I don’t think people realize that,” she said. “Not only is it diverse with American culture, (but) they have a lot of refugee communities that live in Amarillo. It’s pretty international, actually, in a place where people would not expect it.” 

It was important for Stodel to have a well-rounded view of the 2019 election, giving everyone the chance to have their say on what could make Amarillo a better place to live.

“People are good. There are no bad people in this movie. There are no bad people. Everybody felt that they were doing the best for the community,” Stodel said. “I think having one perspective wouldn’t have done it justice, because everyone that I met in Amarillo (was) wonderful. Everybody is just doing their best.” 

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It was surreal for Pedigo to see his election journey through Stodel’s perspective, saying it was “beautiful getting to relive a time of (his) life that was so special.” But even more than just the campaign itself, Pedigo was blown away by Stodel’s portrayal of Amarillo.

“I would argue that it is the best documentary on Amarillo ever made," he said. "She did a masterful job of profiling not only me, but all of these communities in Amarillo. ... It shows the beautiful of Amarillo and it shows the ugly of Amarillo and it shows the honesty of it.”

With the film, Stodel hopes lifelong Amarillo residents will have more of a bird’s-eye view of the city, giving them perspective on the various communities that make up the whole. 

“My hope is really that people go in with an open mind and have a minute to think about it and see it from other peoples’ perspectives,” she said. “I hope (the film) brings a new perspective and I hope it brings Amarillo together and makes people aware of other people in their town.”

Stodel said she also hopes this film will encourage people — especially younger individuals — to participate in local elections.

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“You can affect the most change on a local level and people don’t understand that. You can make the most changes on a local level. That’s just the truth,” she said. “If you are involved in these elections and you know who your people are and if you want to change something, that’s where you do it. … Anyone can do it. Anyone can run. If you have a passion, if you have the energy and you have a point of view and you want to make a change in your community, you can do it.” 

Pedigo said that while he got his "(expletive) kicked pretty hard” in the city council election, it makes him feel good that the messages of his campaign, including his critique against local political action committees influencing local elections, will be heard on a wider scale. 

“The ultimate point of the movie is you don’t run just for the intention of winning,” Pedigo said. “If you lose, you can get your message across and open up a conversation that needs to be had.” 

Hayden Pedigo performs at SXSW in 2019.

It means a lot to Pedigo that “Kid Candidate,” a Texas film, will have its world premiere at SXSW, a Texas festival. 

“A lot of people are going to see it who have no idea about Amarillo and have never visited,” he said. “I think after this movie, they are going to feel like they have spent at least a week in Amarillo.” 

Pedigo, who is now a Lubbock resident, said he wants to continue to make a change on a local level wherever he lives. However, he is not sure if he wants to go through the political process again.