It’s a tried-and-tested formula for crowd-pleasing docs: follow a group of diverse kids through an unusual competition (like the national spelling-bee contest in 2002 heartwarmer ‘Spellbound’) capturing their tics and half-formed thoughts en route. For this National Geographic film, the arena is the International Science Fair, an annual gathering of teenage geeks from around the globe, who we meet all hyped up in a Los Angeles conference centre and ready to share their ideas for combatting the Zika virus, revolutionising air flight or teaching a machine to write rap lyrics in the style of Kanye.
‘Science Fair’ dwells on a handful of young contenders from Brazil and Germany, but mostly its interest is reserved for students from different corners of the US – Long Island, South Dakota, Kentucky. Eye-grabbing personalities emerge: Anjali, a mind-bendingly precocious 14-year-old; Robbie, a loud-shirted and kind boy who struggles with traditional education; Kashfia, a Bengali-American whose quiet intelligence is lost on her school. The best bits make you stop and wonder what will emerge for these kids out of this carnival of gangly legs, wonky smiles and fragile egos. There’s an underlying argument that science must rule in the face of ignorance – but mostly the onus is on fun rather than depth. It’s light and rewarding.