Science Fair Film

Science fairs at school levels excite one and all, irrespective of their scale. It is a merger of some of the finest minds around, bubbling with ideas and a natural bent to prove one’s mettle. Given their age, the youngsters are seldom contaminated with external showiness. Failure, most certainly, hurts but it isn’t as big a blow as it might be to an adult’s egos. This is precisely the mindscape that filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s film Science Fair intends to capture.

One that sees the brouhaha around an Intel-powered international science fair through the lens of a bunch of bright teenagers, Science Fair takes you a journey that is fulfilling and filled with interesting revelations. If you ever thought it is hard to gauge a teenager’s (a talented one, at that) emotions towards something that he/she roots for, then Science Fair can teach you a word or two. It is compelling and thought-provoking as it lets the subjects speak about their aspirations, worries, and immediate challenges despite coming from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. There are moments where they expose things that are worthy of larger conversations in all their innocence and wide-eyed ambitions.

If Anjali’s forthrightness cannot be cut off with a single failure, it is glorious neglect from her school authorities that worries Kashfia. If it’s a childhood dream taking shape for Ivo, Myllena and Gabriel are making inroads to the mainstream from their poor lineages. It is the unabashed purity in their ways that warms us to their goals and dreams. The film’s opening scene where an all-elated freshman expresses what is the most organic response to a science fair victory sets the tone for us.

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Costantini and Foster design the narrative with enough twists, turns, and humour ensuring that we are hooked until the final reveal – the big win. Sometimes you do feel the absence of an external perspective. I had wished for instances where their fellow batch-mates or a few less smitten parents could talk about these science prodigies and what they felt for them. How many of them would be billed straightaway as a nerd with zilch know-how of the world? A few like Anjali seem increasingly aware of themselves and also of the world around them. A few of them, in contrast, do not appear to be. The film also chooses not to converse much once the ISEF fair is done. We do feel bad – especially for Myllena and Gabriel – for the fact that their story has great possibilities of drama in it. Even otherwise, these children, irrespective of their propensity for science are interesting, unique individuals with well-tuned identities of their own. The innocence, anyhow, is the icing on the cake. Additionally, it is impressive to see Science Fair evolve in a way that it is a positive sell-out to all concerned. Many ill-informed schools and teachers, for instance, can take a leaf off Kashfia’s story because the future, most certainly, lies with research-oriented and unadulterated minds like the ones we see in the film.

Rating: ★★★ 1/2