“Inventing Tomorrow” may have gathered its stories of bright, problem-solving teenagers around the world from the fact that they entered the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, but that does not make it your typical contest documentary. The competition is beside the point in Laura Nix’s inspiring film because she’s interested in showcasing a specific type of high school entrant: those who see an environmental threat in their backyard and are driven to fix it with science.
Sixteen-year-old activist Sahithi, who lives in a region of India beset by pollution-caused lake fires, develops an app to make water testing crowd-sourceable. Spirited Bangka Island, Indonesia, students Intan and Nuha want to offset the corrosive effects of legal and illegal tin mining in their city by creating a filter for dredgers to use. Jared, a descendant of Hawaiians who survived tsunamis, works on how to track the spread of arsenic into cities from a pond where it had been dumped for decades.
Meanwhile, three Monterrey, Mexico, kids, disturbed by their industrialized city’s terrible air quality, develop a photocatalytic paint that would halt the spread of pollutants the way trees curb global warming. Rooting for these appealing, thinking-globally/acting-locally adolescents is easy as they fret over and fine-tune their presentations. But by the end, as you dry your eyes, it’s their futures you want them to win — as scientists, optimists and change agents — not just a science fair prize.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes