Review: Smart 'Science Fair' believes in children

Genius kids from across the globe participate in science competition in this delightful documentary

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
A scene from "Science Fair."

There's real drama and real joy in the air in "Science Fair," an enlightening, delightful documentary about the International Science and Engineering Fair, or ISEF, for short. 

ISEF is the annual competition where 1,700 finalists from science fairs across the globe gather to present projects to judges in hopes of being recognized as one of the world's sharpest young minds. It's the Super Bowl of high school science fairs, and there's a $75,000 prize at stake. 

This isn't pouring vinegar into baking soda to create a foaming volcano. ISEF finalists experiment with issues ranging from the Zika virus to nerve tissue regeneration; one of the finalists in the film is studying "a new method of synthesis of 1, 1-fluoronitroalkenes by radical substitution in fluorobromostyrenes." Got all that? 

Filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster follow a handful of students on their way to the 2017 ISEF in Los Angeles. We meet one student, Kashfia Rahman, who is all but anonymous in her Brookings, South Dakota, school, despite placing in the previous year's ISEF.

It's symptomatic of the way we treat the sciences, and those whose smarts are off the charts. "Science Fair" seeks to change that. 

Costantini and Foster shadow a wide range of students, including kids from Brazil, Germany and across the U.S. Perhaps most captivating is a Long Island teacher who helps guide nine of her students to ISEF; her unwavering dedication to her students shows the differences a motivated teacher can make in a child's life.

"Science Fair" is a celebration of intellect and kids who want to improve the world. Turns out science is pretty cool, after all.


'Science Fair'


Rated PG for some thematic elements and brief language

Running time: 90 minutes