Inside Milwaukee Filmmaker Cristina Costantini’s Award-winning ‘Science Fair’ Documentary

Cristina Costantini snagged a Sundance Festival Favorite award for a documentary inspired in part by her experiences at University School of Milwaukee.

As a high school student, Milwaukee native Cristina Costantini won first place at the Badger State Science Fair and came in fourth in her category at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair.

“People ask her ‘Why didn’t you continue in science?’” says her mother, Cathy Costantini. “And she tells them, ‘I realized that what I was interested in was people.’”

Cristina Costantini

Costantini’s passion for her subject, and her subjects, shines throughout Science Fair, a documentary that she co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed. The film, about the diverse lives of smart kids from around the globe competing in the Intel fair, won the Sundance Festival Favorite Award earlier this year.

“For me,” says Costantini, 29, “it was a labor of love.”

A self-described “nerdy kid,” Costantini attended the University School of Milwaukee, where her 2004 science project measuring student susceptibility to peer pressure grew out of “trying to understand why I didn’t fit in.”

After studying political science and journalism at Yale University, she worked at Huffington Post and reported on immigration and politics for the Fusion TV network. Costantini, who now lives in Los Angeles, stepped away from her job at Fusion to make the film. “I had never seen anything I made with an audience before,” she says. “And I can’t see myself going back to just making television in the same way that I used to. I’ve been bitten by a bug.”

She and co-director Darren Foster visited the 2016 Intel fair to “figure out the mechanics” of making the film and met “the people who would become our main characters,” including: a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing eccentric from West Virginia who created a Kanye West lyric generator, two youths from Brazil researching the Zika virus and an introverted Muslim girl whose faculty sponsor is her school football coach – “He has no idea what she’s doing but is very supportive,” Costantini says.

Science Fair has screened at festivals in Europe, Canada and the U.S.A as of press time, no showings are scheduled here yet, but Milwaukee Film has expressed interest in screening the film this fall.

“Blinded by Science” appears in the August 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning July 30, or buy a copy at

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Duane Dudek is a Milwaukee native. For more than 30 years, he was film critic and television columnist at the Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He continues to apply his expertise at