It turns out there’s a lot more to the fair than science.
Remember the school science fair? Every year students create projects, engage in research, and conduct experiments and then present their findings to a panel of judges. It might have been tense and stressful and even rewarding. Documentary director team Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster’s Science Fair takes science and competition to a new level with their film about the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Every year, 1,700 students from around the world compete in different scientific categories for a $75,000 award as well as international recognition as one of the best and brightest minds in the future of science. The film follows nine competing students and one passionate mentor on their journeys to the Los Angeles fair in 2017.
The great thing about this film is that it is not about the research projects. It’s about the people behind the research, the community of the science fair and how they arrive at this life-changing, opportunity-granting experience in a funny and heartfelt way. Even future scientists listen to trap music and go to prom as one team from Louisville, Kentucky did. As student machine learning enthusiast Robbie says in the film, “If you’re there just to win the prize, you’re missing the point of science fair.”
With its focus on the people, there is an underlying tone of education access around the world. It may be unintentional that Constantini and Forrester highlight disparities in educational opportunities that not only persist in the United States but on an international scale as well. There’s a balance between showcasing talents from “powerhouse high schools” and the “underdogs” as Forrester referred to them during a panel after the New York City screening. On issues with the American education system, cast member and Jericho High School research mentor Dr. Serena McCalla said, “we need to pull back and look at where education’s gone.”
One of the most telling stories in the film was that of two students from Iracema, Brazil. A poor town in a poor state in financially-struggling Brazil, Iracema and its students do not have the ability to grow, especially in education, but it was their passion for preventing Microcephaly caused by the Zika virus that inspired Myllena Braz de Silva and Gabriel de Moura Martins to work with their teachers on a medication for the virus. Myllena and Gabriel’s parents did not travel to L.A. with them unlike those of other students, and their presentation for judging day was almost in jeopardy when they thought their translator hadn’t shown up. They may not have had the means of other students who go to ISEF and the other cast members, but they placed in their national competition and made it to the fair just the same.
Voted number one at Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW), Science Fair is in select theaters nationwide as well as 1,500 schools for screenings.