Science Fair (2018)

Science Fair (2018)

An inspiring doc spotlighting the phenomenal STEM talents on our horizon

7.7

Movie

United States of America
English, German, Portuguese
Documentary
2018
CRISTINA COSTANTINI, DARREN FOSTER
90 min

TLDR

It’s difficult to pick a favorite character here, but Kashfia — whose school doesn’t know how lucky they were to have her — is a strong contender.

What it's about

A documentary following nine gifted teens from the US, Germany, and Brazil as they compete against over 1000 high schoolers for life-changing prizes at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

The take

Science Fair is simultaneously a feel-good documentary and a feel-bad one: while inspiring and reassuring for all the brilliant young minds it spotlights, it also has the potential to make your own life accomplishments look paltry in comparison. The former effect is the strongest, though — because you can’t watch high schoolers as young as 14 present pioneering, disease-curing research and inventions and not feel like the future is in good hands.

Science Fair is light on the actual science, which makes it an accessible watch and prevents the film’s focus from mimicking the cutthroat nature of ISEF, the international competition it follows. With a grand prize of $75k and lots of college application-boosting medals up for grabs, the competition amongst the kids is fierce, but Science Fair instead takes an empathetic, celebratory approach so that all of the kids feel like deserved winners. That’s especially true of the more disadvantaged teens: though the competition itself might not take into account all the hurdles they’ve had to overcome even just to get in the room, this compassionate doc definitely does. Even if the science is all Greek to you, it’s impossible not to appreciate and be moved by the determination and resilience of these kids.

What stands out

Profiling the contestants and their supportive (or not so supportive) communities, the doc champions the bookish and the bold, the straight-A students and those who risk failing math because they’re too busy programming their calculator to spit out Shakespearean insults. There’s also the teacher so dedicated to her students’ success that she sacrifices her own personal life to work overtime with them, and then there’s the school that cares so little about one of its phenomenal talents that she has to beg the football coach to mentor her herself. Though all of the students are brilliant in their own ways, it’s stories like the latter — and those of Myllena and Gabriel, two teens from an impoverished Brazilian town working to halt the Zika virus — that emerge as the most inspiring of those featured here.

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