I’ve seen more than a few documentaries in recent years addressing vital environmental issues, chief among them climate change, and they all have one thing in common: they’re terrifying. Not just for what they show of the damage that humankind has done and is doing to its only home, but also for the limited options (if any) that these films present to counter that damage. Last year’s “The Age of Consequences” in particular was real doomsday nightmare fuel.
So it’s commendable that someone has tried to make a film about hope, and not pie-in-the-sky hope, either. “Inventing Tomorrow” takes a personal look at some scientists — not of the accredited adult variety but teenagers, international students working on projects to make things better. They are “the people who can fix it, and who are going to fix it,” one of them says at the film’s opening.
A couple of girls in Indonesia are trying to create a filtering system to reduce mining waste. Some boys in an industrial town in Mexico invent a photocatalytic paint that can make air pollutants nontoxic. A girl in Bangalore, India, once known as a “city of lakes,” now not so much, is creating a water-testing app. A boy in Hilo, Hawaii, is conducting a study of arsenic in soil. They are all finalists in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held in Los Angeles in 2017, the year this was filmed.
Directed by Laura Nix, the movie offers an unguarded view of these smart, conscientious students. By framing the movie as a multipronged narrative that eventually culminates in the big event of the fair itself, it risks prosaicness. But the subjects are winning and heartening, and their mission is one you just can’t take issue with.