Like Spellbound but for matheletes and scientists

Whiz Kids

on May 25, 2010 by Tim Cogshell
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Whiz Kids is a documentary about a very challenging science and math competition called The Science Talent Search. It is America's oldest and most prestigious high school science competition. Over two thousand students begin each year vying for slots; 40 are chosen as finalist. For high school science and math geeks this is a big deal. We could call it the America's Next Top Model of science competitions, however the collective I.Q.'s of everyone watching and participating in America's Next Top Model could not match a single I.Q. of any one of the children participating in this competition, thus the analogy seems a bit shallow. Also unlike America's Next Top Model, the Science Talent Search is a competition of actual national importance, as the United States of America trails just about every advanced (and several not particularly advanced) nations in the fields of science and math. Think of a nation, nearly any nation, and you can be confident that nation is beating us in science and math. Our models, however, are second to none, thus this movie won't make a cent in theaters.

Whiz Kids is less about the competition than it is about three participants in it. Kelydra, Ana and Harmain are typical high school students in that they are lower middle class kids from various types of families and ethnicities. The fact that Kelydra and Ana are young women is of crucial importance in the film. (America is terrible at producing math and science majors, but far worse at producing female math and science majors.) The film follows these youths as they prepare for the selection of the winner of the competition, an honor that comes with a one hundred thousand dollars reward.

There is true drama in this, which is different from the kind of false drama found in, say, America's Next Top Model. Here the outcomes will actually matter in the lives of these kids. As Karmin, the brilliant son of a naturalized single mother puts it, "... the reality of my life is my family can't pay for college, because they can't." Whereas at the end of the America's Next Top Model all the pretty girls will still be pretty, and somebody will pay for that, no matter their I.Q. At the end of this competition (and this film) all of these kids are still brilliant. Here's to hoping someone will be willing to pay for that, too.

Distributor: Shadow Distribution
Directors/Producers: Tom Shepard and Tina DiFeliciantonio
Screenwriter: Jane C. Wagner
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 82 min.
Release date: June 4 NY, June 11 LA

 

Tags: Jane C. Wagner, Tina DiFeliciantonio, Tom Shepard
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