Laura Nix's documentary Inventing Tomorrow begins like a police procedural: A young investigator snaps on rubber gloves and grimly assesses what could be a crime scene. In a way, it is -- two high school girls in Bangka, Indonesia, are adamant that tin mining, spurred by the manufacture of devices like smartphones and computers in high demand the world over, is polluting the sea around their island home.
They take water samples, grill the miners about their practices and invent a filter that could mitigate their toxic side effects, which earns them a spot at the massive Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.
Nix spotlights four such eco-conscious projects -- the others from Hawaii, India and Mexico -- and the teenagers behind them. Though her film shares a lot with the hit student-achievement doc Spellbound, her focus on the fair somewhat blunts her impact. We're privy to the students' backgrounds and get a tiny glimpse into their futures, but the film skims a lot in favor of showcasing the ISEF gathering.
Still, as in the spelling-bee doc, these are moving stories of nerdy children, kids who are pragmatic about the forward march of industry yet believe societies can, and must, find cleaner ways to advance. It's noteworthy that so many are from outside the U.S., which has downgraded science and ecological care to a pitiful degree. Each of them could become leaders in science, government or industry, and, in fact, it would be a crime if they all don't.