Monday, November 12th 2018
Inventing Tomorrow – Meet passionate teenage innovators from around the globe who are creating cutting-edge solutions to confront the world’s environmental threats – found right in their own backyards – while navigating the doubts and insecurities that mark adolescence. Take a journey with these inspiring teens as they prepare their projects for the largest convening of high school scientists in the world, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
Laura Nix (Director) is a Chicken and Egg Breakthrough Filmmaker Award winner in 2018, and was awarded the Sundance Institute/Discovery Impact Fellowship in 2017. She previously directed THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING, (Toronto Film Festival 2014, Berlinale 2015), which was theatrically released and broadcast in the US and in multiple international territories. Her film THE LIGHT IN HER EYES premiered at IDFA; was broadcast on the PBS series POV, and toured the world as part of Sundance’s Film Forward program. Other features directing credits include the comedic melodrama THE POLITICS OF FUR, which played in over 70 festivals internationally and won multiple awards including the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest; and WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, about the phenomenon of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. Her films have been favorably reviewed in publications such as the New York Times, Variety, Indiewire and Time Out London. Nix has broadcast her work through various outlets including New York Times Op-Docs, and on television via Al Jazeera Arabic, PBS, HBO, Arte, ZDF, VPRO, CBC, NHK, Canal+, and IFC. Her work has received support from the Bertha Foundation, BritDoc, Cal Humanities, COBO Fund, the Danish Film Institute, the Redford Center, and the Sundance Documentary Fund. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Film Independent, and the Independent Feature Project, and is currently is a film expert for the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase. Based in Los Angeles, she is the owner of Felt Films, a production company that produces non-fiction shorts and features.
Melanie (Producer): Even though Inventing Tomorrow has all environmental projects the fair itself highlights 23 different scientific disciplines, so it’s not just environmental projects. We started reaching out the fair directors who would then reach out to the parents so that we could set up Skype interviews. I think Laura and our co-producer Beth, their first initial outreach was 200 plus students. We wound up interviewing over 100 students. Then we ultimately, you see here that we followed four teams, we actually followed more than four teams, but some of the teams did not make the final cut of the film. That’s how it started. Our co-producer Beth McNamara could be credited with casting as far as I’m concerned. The casting process could’ve been a film in and of itself.
a/ staff Gray Gordon: Before this film was there any history of environmental activism in your career that sort of informed you wanting to make this film?
Melanie (Producer): So, Laura, is a filmmaker that definitely works on environmental projects. I don’t know if anyone here has ever seen The Yes Men are Revolting, but Laura directed that film and she also did The Light in Her Eyes, but the idea for the film came from a radio interview that I heard while I was driving to work one day. I was listening to Taylor Wilson who is also known as The Boy Who Played with Fusion, at the age of fourteen he created nuclear fusion in his own garage. He was a former competitor at ISEF. The fair travels to different locations and every three years it goes back to LA. In 2014 I heard him doing an interview on NPR talking about his experience with the fair and how it changed the course of his life. I got to the office and I called Diane and I said ‘Have you ever heard of this science fair before?’ This is a treasure trove of stories and we need to investigate this a little bit more. It just snowballed…
a/ staff Gray Gordon: Is there a story that stuck out to you the most from knowing them?
Melanie: It’s interesting because we get this question a lot…. but it’s odd because they’ve all kind of become, I feel like an aunt to all of them a little bit because I am so entrenched in their lives in different ways. Like, Jared, right now is only a senior in high school. So he has now come to different film festivals and different Q&A’s with the film and we’ve purposely set it up where it if it’s a state where he is potentially interested in going to college he can go an extra two days so he can go check out a school.
audience member: This actual event that you’ve filmed, that’s every year?
Melanie (Producer): Yes.
audience member: And, it’s in California every year?
Melanie: It travels. Technically there are three major fairs that take place. They have ISEF which is currently sponsored by INTEL. This coming year, 2019, is the last year that Intel will sponsor it after 20 years. IF they don’t find new sponsorship I don’t know what’s going to happen. So, I’m hoping this movie helps in this conversation for them. They also have a fair that currently travels between Los Angeles and Phoenix, this year we actually went to Pittsburg. It’s my understanding that in 2020 they are not returning to Los Angeles they are actually going to Anaheim.
audience member: They are not outside of the United States, they’re all here in the United States?
Melanie (Producer): Yes, all three fairs are domestic. This is the only one that’s considered an International Fair, but all of the affiliates across the world that are associated with ISEF they come to the United States. Just so everyone knows, there are probably 10 million students over the year that compete in their state or their country to get to this point and there’s approximately 1,800 students that compete.
audience member: Thank you for all the work you’ve done.
audience member: This movie was just astounding, I thought. I was so moved by it and I can imagine seeing it at the school of the arts because of the high school kids there – because it is so artistically done. It’s beautiful and so emotional. It was so moving to me. I would love to see it shown there. To have the arts and sciences come together I think you could do that with this movie.
Melanie (Producer): Thank you, Lawren and I are cooking up some ideas for when I can come back. I really appreciate that. I think this film is very on point right now with what the world needs, frankly. We didn’t know that going in. We had no idea that we would be in the climate that we are in right now and that we would need something like this, but we all knew that we wanted to make something heart-felt and encouraging and inspiring. Not to diss the men in the room, but I think that part of that has to do that this is primarily a female crew. We have a female director, three female producers, three of the four cinematographers are women. The editor is a woman and our composer is a woman and I think that comes through. We’ve had a lot of people come to us afterward and say ‘that’s the first good cry I’ve had in a while’ like a happy cry.
audience member (child): Did any of the groups of the four teams get to know each other because of the film?
Melanie (Producer): Yes. They did. They’ve all become very good friends. Two of them met because they noticed a camera crew following another one of the teams around and they just kind of met. We didn’t suggest that that happen. We were also really lucky to have funding to bring all them together at Sundance for the premiere of it and so they all got to meet each other for the first time, and watch the movie together for the first time. You can see on Instagram and different places where they had snowball fights and went tubing. And most of them had never seen snow, by the way.
Every one of our students is continuing on in some fashion. So the students from Mexico are all at University. One is studying to become a doctor, one is studying marketing and communications, one is studying engineering. One thing to know about team Mexico is they are assigned their projects from their school versus generating the idea originally themselves.
From another group, a team member has just started at Stanford. She has started a non-profit called Water Insights. She has been offered at least two internships from Q&A’s in the Bay Area. Two more are in University, both studying to be doctors. One was able to present her project in Sweden. One is still a senior in high school and is visiting schools and competing again. He is also continuing his project, and his goal is to be able to write a paper that he takes to a town hall meeting to create change in his community.