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Science Fair

The multitudinous effects of competition on the adolescent brain

Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s joyful documentary can’t help but inspire hope in these grim times as it follows nine science-obsessed teenagers in the lead-up to the esteemed Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, an arduous competition where the winner stands to pocket a cool $75,000 and perhaps change the world.

Poster for the competition doc Science FairCo-director Costantini was an ISEF contestant herself, which helps account for the empathetic treatment accorded the film’s whiz-kid subjects, all of whom come across as fully rounded – and fully human – characters while competing with 1,700 fellow neophyte scientists from 78 countries. Among the contestants profiled are Brazilians Myllena Braz de Silva and Gabriel de Moura Martins, who are working on a genetic mutation to combat the Zika virus; German aeronautics novice Ivo Zell, who has designed a more fuel-efficient plane wing and built a prototype aircraft; and Muslim-American Kashfia Rahman, who combats sexism, intolerance and indifference to pursue her research into brain function in risk-taking adolescents.

If there is one underlying commonality among these kids – other than their exceptional intelligence, of course – it is a quiet, almost self-effacing, determination to succeed and to help make the world a better place. Costantini and Foster capture this spirit perfectly, resulting in a wonderfully humane and profoundly positive documentary.

– Vancouver International Film Festival

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