A documentary by Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster. In English, Portuguese, and German, with English subtitles. Rated G
National Geographic magazine turned 130 last fall. And in all that time it has remained scrupulously apolitical. Until now. The pathologically antiscience bent of religious fanatics and industry overseers now in charge of most U.S. agencies has forced the publication to remind people that brains are not only good, they’re a necessary part of life and, well, capitalism!
This cleverly edited doc follows ethnically and financially diverse kids from varied parts of the world as they converge on the eponymous event—the International Science and Engineering Fair—held every year since launching in 1942, at the height of the Second World War. First-time featuremakers Darren Foster and Cristina Constantini actually found some still-active winners from the early days, and one more recent veteran, to describe the process. But the emphasis is on fresh young faces.
To do this, they had to choose between 425 regional and international competitions to follow a gaggle of high-school students who would then be winnowed down to a smaller group competing for 1,700 spots at the 2017 ISEF, in Los Angeles. These include several standouts from rural parts of the USA. There are three amiable frat-type boys from Kentucky refining a cardiac-reading device; a goofy West Virginian teaching robots to rap (he might want to rethink using Kanye West as a model); and, most touchingly, a low-key Muslim girl, named Kashfia Rahman, who gets little support from her South Dakota school for her brain-function studies.
Elsewhere, a boy and girl from a remote corner of Brazil tackle the Zika virus, and a rich kid from Germany has revolutionary ideas about aeronautics. On New York’s Long Island, a woefully underfunded African-American science instructor is so successful at inspiring her students, she ends up bringing multiple teams to L.A. A disproportionate number of U.S. prodigies come from Asian backgrounds. In fact, one young wag describes the opening-night dance as “200 Indian guys standing around two girls”.
In fact, ethnic and gender demographics keep changing, and the zeal for science keeps growing. Not everyone’s a winner, baby, but it’s sheer pleasure to meet so many young people—and even more crucially, some tireless teachers—who dedicate their knowledge to improving life for whatever planet we have left.