Science Fair (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
In the spirit of Spellbound, this new documentary shows us we should not be underestimating our future generations. These kids are amazing.
We see kids overcoming obstacles in several unique ways, facing rejection and showing determination and resilience in having their ideas heard and validated.
No matter where they may come from geographically, we know these kids. As a result, Science Fair feels real and relatable.
I cannot really find one objectionable thing about this movie, so…um…you have taken a principaled stand to not watch documentaries.
You avoid films with a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Look. I don’t know. The movie can teach us all something. This a good thing.
In the opening moments of Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s new documentary, Science Fair, we see a high school freshman, Jack Andraka, earn the prestigious “Best in Fair” award at the annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Landing a $75,000 scholarship, Andraka is screaming exuberantly as he walks up the aisle to the stage, and once handed the award, the then-high school freshman is overcome with emotion, elation, and relief.
Instantly we understand, if we didn’t already, that for the Jack Andrakas of the world, what he experienced is a big, big deal. And Science Fair takes us directly into the minds of nine high school students from around the world, devoted to science, and looking to take their projects and ideas to the ISEF competition and earn the highest honors they can.
For those of us who competed as students, or have had children or grandchildren recently participate in a local or regional science fair, it is hard not to be blown away by the concepts and theories these students want to prove, disprove, or otherwise learn more about. Imagine the most impressive science fair project you saw and amplify it by any metric you choose. These are kids who truly think outside of the box and see no limitations in pushing the boundaries on what they will discover.
In Brazil, two friends see communities ravaged by the deadly Zika virus and decided they wanted to try and help with recovery. The students, Myllena and Gabriel, found a breakthrough in how certain proteins within the body can be isolated and attack the virus. Instantly, they began studying the feasibility of such a claim.
A German student, Ivo, has designed a wing that challenges notions of fuel efficiency and engineering designs. Robbie created an algorithm based on the lyrics of Kanye West, which generates “new” Kanye lyrics based on language patterns and phrasing the rapper has used in his catalog of tracks.
More importantly, these kids are resourceful. We meet a Muslim student from South Dakota, Kashfia, who decides to turn the sports-first temperament of her high school on its ear and study brainwaves associated with using drugs and alcohol. Her staff endorsement to mentor the project? The head football coach.
We meet the students initially through a series of vignettes and learn that there is far more to them than meets the eye. Surfing, hip-hop music, a nonchalance about local and regional competitions, gaming, computer-generated Shakespearean insults - all are introduced into the narrative and it is hard to not just embrace these kids for who they are and what they seek to accomplish in the world.
Science Fair really is a joy to watch. Seeing the kids amp up for competition shares a fascinating paradox between creation and recognition. And while Science Fair stays largely silent on the pros and cons of such a competitive world, we do meet a New York teacher and advisor, Dr. Serena McCalla, whose school program is all about winning first place prizes and categorical competitions. Driving home the “We Must Win” philosophy is a striking contrast to some of the students who simply place the importance of the work ahead of any recognition.
Demystifying the notion of science-adept students being “geeks” and “nerds,” Science Fair taps into the awkwardness of middle school and high school significantly well. While the film could streamline its storytelling a bit, and provide a more inclusive understanding of the creation of the projects, you just cannot help but become immersed in these worlds.
And in a world that has become increasingly polarized and toxic, Science Fair offers a wonderful break from the din and noise outside our walls. At a minimum, it gives us students we cannot help but root for, ideas and concepts to ponder, all while never losing its sense of youthful wonder and curiosity.
CAST & CREW
Director: Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster
Written by: Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster, Jeff Plunkett
Release Date: September 14, 2018
National Geographic Films