Zero Gravity 2021
Distributed by Good Docs
Produced by Thomas Verrette and Haller Rice
Directed by Thomas Verrette
Streaming, 75 mins
Middle School - General Adult
Coding; Diversity; Families; Space; STEM education; Teamwork
Date Entered: 05/12/2023Reviewed by Suzanne Mangrum, Acquisitions Librarian, Middle Tennessee State University
Zero Gravity is an uplifting documentary about challenging and coaching youth to achieve team goals through a coding competition. It follows a teacher, Tanner Marcoida, and three children aged 10-11 in San Jose, CA, who are taking part in the Spheres Zero Robotics Competition. The ultimate goal of the program is to test mini satellites that could be applied to satellites that may orbit Mars in the future. The goal of the competition is to create the best strategy to win the most points by coding the Spheres to complete a set of tasks. It features several astronauts and shows the final competition of the actual Spheres aboard the International Space Station. May the best code win.
The story brings awareness to the necessity of teaching code as the language of our future, but it also does so much more. This is an absolute feel-good film that appeals to a broad audience because it focuses on the dreams of a diverse group of students and their families. The dreams of Carol, Adrien, and Advik are huge, emerging, and naïve. The work they complete as a team with Mr. Marcoida, is formidable. It is not simply about learning to code: it includes math, spatial awareness, strategy, problem-solving, teamwork, and the value of failing forward. The process of learning through competition within their own team and by sparring with teams in their area improves their strategies and code. By the end of the competition, the audience has no doubt that these students will achieve anything they apply their minds and hearts to.
One mild criticism about this film is that it’s a bit scrubbed clean of the negative side of the process. It skims over the slogging that goes into learning to code and creating a program that runs cleanly. The teacher makes one statement about overcoming the frustrations involved in creating the final product, but mostly the defeats suffered are immediately followed by the bounce-back plan. However, adults and youth alike can see the students and Mr. Marcoida overcome adversity on many levels. Carol Gonzalez, who struggled with being bullied when she was younger and with the separation of her family between America and Mexico, Adrien Engelder, who lives with her grandmother because her parents were not able to care for her, to Advik Gonugunta, who was told that he did not belong in America because of his skin. These are children and families who overcome many difficulties through love, compassion, and perseverance. The humanity shown in this documentary, particularly through the parent’s and grandparents’ comments, make it appealing to a wide audience. It beautifully shows the dreams families have for their children’s future, the sacrifices they make, and the values they want to impart.
This is an excellent film to inspire students of all ages to take on new challenges and explore new technologies. The story of the San Jose robotics team, as well as several parts where NASA astronauts are featured, shows that participating in the world of science requires curiosity and tenacity as much as an interest in math or science. It is also a great film for families. Zero Gravity would be a wonderful edition for school, public, and academic library collections with STEM education programs.
Awards: 2022 Accolade Competition Award of Excellence Special Mention; 2022 Thin Line Festival Jury Award Best Documentary Feature; 2022 Vegas Movie Awards Best Inspirational Film; 2021 IndieFEST Award of Excellence Special Mention; 2021 OTB Jury Award Best Documentary Feature Film; 2021 Documentaries Without Borders Film Festival Outstanding Excellence Award; 2021 Friday Harbor Film Festival Audience Award
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