Science Fair To USA: Come In, Please (#CleanTechnica Interview)

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CleanTechnica is happy to bring you the inside scoop on the latest in science film and TV shows, and this time we have an exclusive phone visit with Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, co-directors of the new documentary Science Fair.

If you’ve been hearing some good buzz about Science Fair, it’s all true. Go see for yourself! For various reasons, now would be a perfect time to reconnect with the heady mix of curiosity, audacity, self confidence, and sheer joy of having intelligence that has helped to shape the national identity of the US ever since Benjamin Franklin blew off the Royal Academy of Brussels back in 1781.

Science Fair is, a fun, trippy tumble through the super-competitive world of high school science competitions that will make you stand up and cheer! No wait, it’s a lifeline of love and support for every young person cast adrift in a sea of conformity! And what about that subtle commentary on the anti-immigrant messaging that has been oozing forth from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!

No, really, go see for yourself. In the meantime, consider that the actual high school science fair documented in the film resulted in 500 patents, and you can see what a big deal this is.

Want a taste? Watch the trailer!

Where were we? Oh right, the interview. Here it is:

CleanTechnica: Let’s talk about the interplay of innovation and competition in Science Fair.

Cristina: I was a science fair kid myself. It was totally a life changing experience, an outlet for all of my ideas.

The competition element was super important. It meant something to win a prize.

So many of the projects are collaborative in nature. It’s all about learning from experts, talking to judges and being in a community.

The competition is important to get kids in the door, but the lessons one learns are so much more important. It also drives our narrative!

Darren: Cristina said it really well. The nice thing about Science Fair is that aside from the competition, it’s a wonderful exchange of ideas.

These are kids that share a deep passion for science, and to be with 1700 kids who share that passion is a wonderful experience.

The competition gives kids a structure and an angle. It gives them hard deadlines, it gives them important lessons. You have to communicate, defend, and articulate ideas. These are lessons the kids are learning for the real world beyond the science fair.

Cristina: Marin Loh [a scientist in the film] said that few institutions are more American than Science Fair. It does have competitive aspect. For better or worse, we are a very competitive nation. Innovation and the progress of science are historically very American ideas.

CleanTechnica: What does Science Fair tell us about immigration and the US?

Cristina: The first science fair happened in the middle of World War II, and today we also live in very strange times, very abnormal times.

America has always been a nation of science and a nation of immigrants. Part of the [intention of the] movie was to give hope and remind people of who we are.

Darren: I do think in may ways this country found its footing after the second World War, when we did turn to science to help us innovate and progress. It was something that came from the top down, it was a priority for our nation.

Contrast that with what’s coming out of Washington today…that’s a bad thing but what’s worse is that it sends a message to kids, that this is not a priority for us.

Really the tone needs to be set at the top, you need to have these kids be inspired.

Cristina: Immigration is definitely a message that we wanted the move to carry. I’m a daughter of immigrants and frankly you can’t do a movie about science without talking about immigrants.

Our scientific community is full of immigrants. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for their contributions.

Darren: When we set out to make this film…the backdrop changed, the anti-Muslim rhetoric heated up, and it just so happened that the characters we’ve been following were in the middle of all that.

CleanTechnica: What’s next for Science Fair?

Darren: This film has a long life ahead of it. We’re just starting to premier in the next couple of weeks so we hope a lot of people turn out.

Having National Geographic as a partner has been amazing for us. They already have platforms to distribute to school. Our goal is to have as many people see it as possible, especially kids.

Cristina: Science Fair was made at a particularly odd time for science fairs, because the funding is being cut. We hope this reminds people that science fairs means a lot to kids who don’t fit traditional academic slot or aren’t supported where they live.

Science empowers kids to try to understand the world around them and fix problems they see in front of them. I studied peer pressure conformity and it helped me, it empowered me.

Darren: All over Science Fair you see students with projects that are very much addressing issues in their own backyard. Regional and local themes come out and form a big picture.

If you think science fairs are all about baking soda volcanoes, guess again.

What Are You Waiting For, Go See The Science Movie!

Well, you have to start somewhere! Hopefully kids who are still in the baking soda phase will be inspired to carry on, regardless of the weird disconnection (or maybe there is an explanation) from evidence-based reasoning that seems to be much in vogue these days among a certain set.

After all, for a nation forged in the ideal of equal rights and honed on the wheel of science, the USA can sure act, well, weird sometimes.

Surely this counts as one of those times. Exhibit A is the nation’s own Commander-in-Chief, a person* who routinely passes off profoundly false observations as reliable statements of fact. With every fresh missive (thanks, Jack!) you can practically smell the booze-breath of a foundering democracy, stumbling around in the pre-blackout gloaming like some barroom drunk in search of a fight.

Any bartender worth their salt do something before every glass in the house gets broken, amirite!

Not a bartender? No problem! Look up your local elected officials and let them know what you think — better yet, make sure you’re registered to vote in the midterms.

For more CleanTechnica science-as-entertainment news check out the astronauts featured in One Strange Rock and the ocean wave project in the Breakthrough series — both from National Geographic, as is Science Fair.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo (cropped, enhanced): “Watching the Volcano” by Eden, Janine and Jim via, creative commons license.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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