Younger generations could be forgiven if they were filled with fury over the planet that has been knocked into disrepair for them. I truly believe that history will incredulously record that the greater political society knew of all the ways it was inflicting damage upon the environment in which it lived and chose to actually accelerate the problems rather than work collectively to solve them. There will be no shortage of villains. Luckily, the new documentary Inventing Tomorrow suggests the heroes may be poised to arrive.
Director Laura Nix’s film follows separate high school students as they diligent prepare to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a massive gathering of young scientists from around the globe. The actual event covers a vast range of topics across the sciences, but Nix opts to focus on young people who are training their equations and contraptions on ecological dilemmas in their local communities. The experiments get a reasonable amount of screen time, enough to provide the gist of their particulars, but not so much that heavy duty explication boxes out the layman. (And I type the preceding as a deeply devout layman.) Nix is less interested in wowing the audience with the audaciousness of the students’ discoveries. She’s more concerned with the inspiration to be found in their resolute earnestness.
Inevitably in a film of this sort, certain figures will stand out as especially engaging and charismatic. I’ll long remember the cheery seriousness of Shofi Latifa Nuha Anfaresi, who works with fellow students to develop a filter for the waterborne tin miners in Indonesia, and the ways the studious diligence of the film’s trio of Mexican boys, working on a paint that can help clear pollution from the ear, meet the shiny splendor of Los Angeles with awestruck eyes. Even so, Nix does a remarkable job of balancing the stories. She’s utterly uninterested in drama and clearly cares barely a whit about who triumphs at the event’s awards ceremony. She is rooting for all her subjects because they deserve to have a cheering section and they being admirably upbeat outlooks to the prospect of healing the the wounded landscape. Blessed by isolation from — or indifference to — the foolish squabbles that have prevented their elders from developing scientific course corrections, these teens simply go about the business of seeking solutions.
Nix hazards hope that the tomorrow being invented by the young will indeed be a better one. I want her to be correct. The individuals in her film deserve it.