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'Inventing Tomorrow' films young scientists tackling environmental issues

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sat, April 20, 2019  /  07:34 pm
'Inventing Tomorrow' films young scientists tackling environmental issues

Laura Nix (center) poses with Intan Utami (left) and Nuha Anfaresi (right) at The Jakarta Post office on April 1. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

High schoolers Intan Utami and Nuha Anfaresi marveled at the turquoise ocean of Bangka Belitung province. But beneath its breathtaking colors, the province is causing concern among environmentalists, especially about the impact of its offshore tin-mining practices.

Intan and Nuha were no different. They voiced their concerns about the level of lead-heavy metal coming from the byproducts of tin ore processing. “When it spreads, it is consumed by fish and contaminates coral reefs,” said Intan during an interview at The Jakarta Post in early April. “Based on our research, lead has the highest toxicity level. We’d like to solve the problem but with a low budget and easy methods.”

In their project, Nuha dealt more with the technical aspects while Intan examined local people’s health.

Their research was one of the projects addressed in Inventing Tomorrow by Laura Nix, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018.

Over 87 minutes, the documentary follows six teenagers from Indonesia, India, Hawaii and Mexico before, during and after participating at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a pre-college science competition, in Los Angeles, the United States.

The film allows audiences to see the participants’ viewpoint on the environment, the research process and the competition itself. It also shows how they coped with setbacks and moved on with their projects. It is heartwarming to see how eager the young participants were upon presenting their studies before the judges.

Read also: Indonesia needs more documentaries to fight excess of hoaxes

Intan Utami (left) and Nuha Anfaresi (right) in one of the scenes of 'Inventing Tomorrow', directed by Laura Nix. Intan Utami (left) and Nuha Anfaresi (right) in one of the scenes of 'Inventing Tomorrow', directed by Laura Nix. (inventingtomorrowmovie.com/File)

Inventing Tomorrow generates hope and reminds us of the fact that we all have a choice.

“I tried to downplay the aspect of the competition as much as possible because I really didn’t care whether or not my students won or lost. What was important to me was they were asking the right questions about the right issues,” Nix said at the interview, adding that it was “probably the most emotional film” she has ever made.

Nix also praised Nuha and Intan for their courage, especially because they filmed the illegal miners as well. “What I find interesting is that they’re not saying ‘Don’t do tin mining’, [instead] they’re saying, ‘We need to just modify the process of tin mining, so that this can’t happen’,” she said. 

Nix, who also created the documentary The Yes Men are Revolting in 2014, still keeps in touch with the participants through a WhatsApp group.

“I tend to share some boring articles about climate change, then they just send back emojis and share pop songs instead,” Nix said, laughing.

“I feel when you make a film like this [...] they’ve invited you into their lives, and so I invite them into mine and you have relationships with people forever.”

Intan and Nuha are now enrolled in different universities; Intan at the School of Medicine of Malahayati University in Lampung, while Nuha is at Yogyakarta-based Indonesian Islamic University (UII) majoring in Environmental Engineering.

Nix is currently working on a film about immigration in the US, but she says she is always looking for stories about the environment, especially those that offer a new way for people to address it. (wng)

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