Written by: Hannah Tran | March 11th, 2021
Own the Room (Cristina Costantini/Darren Foster, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
From the creators of 2018’s Science Fair comes what could easily be considered its adult counterpart, Own the Room, a documentary detailing the experience of young entrepreneurs who seek to win big at the prestigious Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. And while it may not be the most immaculately organized piece of filmmaking, it does provide a fascinating look at the difficulties those around the world face. More importantly, through its five young entrepreneurs, whose endearing personalities are almost as unique and compelling as their inventions, it provides a look at how young people aim to solve those difficulties.
But while each of the subjects are likeable enough in their own right – the selection of subjects are a key component of making this documentary work – they are also one of the many reasons it lacks a much-needed element of suspense. We open with the U.S. entry, Venezuelan immigrant Daniela Blanco, who has developed a cheaper, more eco-friendly method of manufacturing nylon. While the inventions that follow can still be pertinent, comical, and even astounding, the documentary does little to convince you that they are deserving of the same amount of attention. It can occasionally feel that the other competitors are pushed aside or awkwardly shoved into narrative lulls in the story. And the tendency of the editing to either rush or drag certain phases of the competition doesn’t help, either.
While the structure and magnitude of the competition itself could have been more thoroughly introduced, there is an acute sense of wonder the documentary has when displaying its grand scope, which comprises much of its intrigue. However, there are many elements of the process that feel as though they get lost in the shuffle. First is the relationship between the main five competitors, who we learn only later on have actually formed a very supportive relationship due to their involvement with the documentary. Second is the issue that many of the more regional projects, and specifically those that would help developing nations more, are clearly taken less seriously than the more global-minded or Western projects. While these things are briefly mentioned, the documentary is never willing to explore or reveal them to us. This is a mistake.
And this leads to the broader issue with the presentation, which is that it should have either been shorter and only highlighted a more focused part of the competition, or longer and have allowed the time to develop both its protagonists and ideas more thoroughly. It has the subject matter, the tools, and the coverage it needs to be interesting, but it seems to lack the bold streak needed to fuse them into a truly memorable story. That being said, its handful of flaws rarely impede the simple stories of the young entrepreneurs involved. Through their diverse backgrounds and inspirational journeys that led them to where they are now, we glimpse an encouraging look at our future, and also better understand our current responsibility to those who are less visible in the global market.