- Matthew Turner
- 15 October 2018
Heart-warming documentary following gifted international students as they compete at the annual International Science and Engineering Fair
A heart-warming, competition-based documentary in the style of Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom and Sounds Like Teen Spirit, Science Fair follows several gifted students as they prepare to enter the prestigious International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Offering a $75,000 top prize and considerable career prospects, the ISEF attracts around 1,500 students from over 70 different countries each year.
Filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster have assembled an extremely engaging group of entrants. They include shy 16-year old Kashfia, who's all but invisible at her sports-obsessed South Dakota high school, but has somehow enlisted the football coach as her faculty advisor; cheerful loner Robbie, who taught his computer to rap by writing an algorithm that analysed Kanye West lyrics; gangly German aeronautics enthusiast Iwo, who's radically rethought single-wing aircraft design; and Brazilian pair Myllena and Gabriel, who've identified a protein that could halt the spread of the Zika virus that devastated their impoverished region.
Articulate and frequently funny, the students are consistently enjoyable to watch, though the film can't resist poking gentle fun at their nerd status in a sequence where they're getting ready for an ISEF-organised disco, where one participant jokingly observes that "the better you are at science, the worse you are at dancing".
The film is slightly let down by a lack of focus and an uneven structure, as it's clear that Costantini and Foster spent much more time with some of their subjects than with others. The biggest casualty of this is Kashfia, whose mentor relationship with the football coach seems extremely promising at the beginning of the film but is never followed up.
Yet, despite their varied backgrounds, each of the students are united by their infectious passion for knowledge and learning. As such, Science Fair that unabashedly celebrates intelligence and even leaves you with hope for the future, a quality that's been in short supply of late.
Released Fri 19 Oct.