SCIENCE FAIR – A Review by Cynthia Flores
This film is a blast to watch as we follow a group of nine, out of seven million, high school students who participate in science competitions around the globe each year. We watch as they deal with rivalries, setbacks and the stress of being a teenager as they compete to win a spot at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). It is there that they will join 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 different countries to face off and present their projects for the chance to win in their categories and also win the one and only “Best in Fair.”
The filmmakers were smart to start the movie off with great footage of a previous winner named Jack, whose absolute nerdy elation just fills the screen. He then goes on to inform us, as a 20-year-old college student how important that win was for him and to anyone that gets it.
One of the documentary’s directors, Cristina Costantini, is herself a two-time alumna of ISEF and was able to bring her insight into the scene and how it shapes the lives of the young people that participate. I like the way the film used interviews with much older former winners and archival footage of the competitions to educate us on the history of the event in between following the nine kids that propel our story.
I expected the super competitive stories of American students from good high schools with elite science programs such as Jericho High School in Long Island and DuPont Manual High school from Kentucky doing well in this arena but what I was surprised by were the underdogs. The stories of the kids from extremely impoverished communities making it to the big time despite their lack of support at school. One Muslim girl, Kashfia Rahman from a small South Dakota “jock town” where sports rule did not even have announcements over the school PA of the big wins she has racked up. Or the team from a tiny poor town in Brazil that got to compete with their idea that may wipe out the effects of Zika one day. Their scrappiness in the face of significant disadvantages will make you weep.
Science Fair will, of course, be compared to the great kid-centric competition documentary from 2003 Spellbound. They both are exciting to watch, the main difference between them is that this documentary didn’t have access to the big moment for our kids, which is when they face the judges at ISEF. On the day of judging, only students and judges are allowed on the floor. Their teachers, mentors, and parents all wait outside for eight hours as the kids fend for themselves. We feel every bit of the tension. We do, however, get to watch the event where the winners are announced and partake in their utter relief and joy of the moment.
Science Fair is a vital documentary at a time when budgets for science programs are being cut at the state level. This film shows that science fairs are not just a nerdy extracurricular program, they make a huge difference in the lives of those that participate and the rest of us that benefit from the changes to our world that these kids are making. I predict that this film will make the Best Documentary list come Oscar time, so I give it an A+ rating.
Directed by Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster
Written By Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster, Jeff Plunkett
Selig Rating A+
Running Time 1hr 30min
Limited Release September 28th Landmarks The Magnolia
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.