Scientific Activism: Our Review of ‘Inventing Tomorrow’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 17, 2019
Scientific Activism: Our Review of ‘Inventing Tomorrow’

In Bengaluru, India one of the few remaining lakes is overflowing with soap foam. The image is reminiscent of a cartoon in which a laundry detergent truck crashes into the water and causing foam to pour into the streets. However, the cause of this foam is not some comedic pratfall, but rather years of environmental neglect that threatens to eradicate the water supply for the surrounding community in a few short years.

It is events like this, and other dire environmental issues around the globe, that has compelled teenagers like 16-year-old Sahiti to seek scientific remedies that will save their land. In her engaging documentary Inventing Tomorrow director Laura Nix introduces us to a handful of young people from various parts of the world who are working on inventions that will combat problems like air pollution and arsenic filled soil to name a few.

Although their cultural experiences may be different, their love of science has brought them to the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). There they compete with the top students from across 78 countries to hopefully have their ideas connect with some of the top minds in the various scientific industries.

Winning a prize at ISEF can propel a student’s career trajectory to new heights, however, Nix’s film focuses primarily on how environmental crises have led the students to activism through science. Inventing Tomorrow not only highlights the problems impacting places like Mexico and Hawaii, but also the ethical conflict of having practices that can benefit local economies while potentially damaging the environment at the same time.

As 17-year-old Nuha from Bangka, Indonesia points out, the mining of “black tin” is greatly impacting local fishing industries. However, the tin is important from a financial standpoint as it is used in numerous electronics, including the iPhones she and her friends take selfies with.

Considering the subject matter and the focus on ISEF in the latter half, it is inevitable that Nix’s film will draw comparisons to Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s documentary Science Fair. While both travel similar roads, the latter is more consumed with the inner workings of ISEF itself and the pressure it places on the students. Nix’s film does a better job of raising the environmental stakes and overall sense of urgency. In fact, this film would have been just as effective if it skipped ISEF all together.

It would have been nice had the film delved into the personal lives of the students a lot more, as threads like one Jose’s inability to afford university tuition feel tacked on. Despite its flaws Inventing Tomorrow still manages to be an engaging tale that will empower a whole new generation of youth to help save our planet one scientific experiment at a time.

  • Release Date: 1/18/2019
  • Directed by:
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Courtney is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic and the founder of Cinema Axis. He can frequently be heard discussing film as co-host of Frameline on Radio Regent. Courtney has contributed to several publications including Leornard Maltin, That Shelf, Black Girl Nerds, and Comix Asylum Magazine. He also celebrates diversity in cinema as co-hosts of the Changing Reels podcast and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.
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