MORE THAN ROBOTS (SXSW 2022, doc)


SXSW 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. For as far back as we can trace human existence, the older generation has grumped on the younger one. It’s unlikely Neanderthal parents used the term ‘slacker’, but they undoubtedly got their point across to the youngsters who were inept at hunting and never seemed to gather much. Gillian Jacobs is best known for her acting (the TV series “Community”), and in directing her first feature length documentary she serves up proof that the rising generation offers plenty of hope for the future.

The film opens on a crowded gymnasium filled with noisy kids and action around some funky looking automated devices. It turns out what we are seeing, and what Ms. Jacobs set out to document, is the 2020 FIRST Robotics competition in Los Angeles. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is an international non-profit organization co-founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen. The mission is to encourage and develop students in the field of engineering and technology through what they term, “coopertition”, a blend of cooperation and competition.

We follow four distinctly different teams as they prepare for the competition. One team is from an upper-middle class California area and has 60+ team members. Another is from the Watts area and is much smaller. Interestingly, the adult mentors for these two teams are a married couple, displaying the true meaning of coopertition! The other two teams are from Japan and Mexico, respectively, and Ms. Jacobs wisely focuses on one student leader from each of the four team, making it easier for us to connect and follow.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the teams as the competition was canceled for two consecutive years. However, the kids proved just how resilient they are as they committed their time and skills to building facemasks, respirators, and contributing to society in every way possible. Of course this meant even more excitement was generated as the 2022 FIRST Robotics competitions kicked back in … and we get to experience the emotions. The focus on teamwork and alliances is refreshing to see, and the joy on the faces of students makes it all worthwhile. This may seem to revolve around robots, but it’s actually life lessons for everyone involved.

WATCH THE TRAILER

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