still from 'Science Fair'

Milwaukee Filmmaker Cristina Costantini Just Won the Sundance Festival Favorite Award for ‘Science Fair’

Milwaukee native Cristina Costantini is making quite a name for herself.

Science Fair, a documentary by a Milwaukee native Cristina Costantini won the festival favorite award at the Sundance Film Festival, it was announced last week.

It was the first time the award was ever presented. The film was shown in the Sundance festival’s Kids program. 

Cristina Constantini
Cristina Constantini; photo courtesy of IMDB

Costantini, 29, took two years away from her job as digital producer and journalist with the Fusion cable channel and online platform to make the film, which she co-directed, co-produced and co-wrote with Darren Foster. 

Last year she and Foster received an Alfred I. du Pont – Columbia University Award for The Naked Truth: Death by Fentanyl. She shared a GLAAD Media Award in 2015 and received two Emmy nominations that same year for Pimp: A Journey To the Center of the Sex Trade.

Her parents Mario and Cathy Costantini own the rustic furniture design company La Lune, 930 E. Burleigh St. 

Cristina made Science Fair, said her mother Cathy, because “she needed a break from all the terrible sadness of those documentaries. She was a science fair kid in high school and always wanted to write a love letter to that world that changed her life.”

When competing in the science fair while attending University School of Milwaukee she developed an experiment to determine how to measure whether a person was susceptible to peer pressure, said her father Mario Costantini. 

She won, went on to win state and national awards and was fourth in the world for behavioral science at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

According to a synopsis in the Sundance film catalog, the film follows nine students from around the world competing in the Intel science fair as they “navigate rivalries, setbacks and of course, hormones. Facing off against 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 different countries, only one will be named Best in Fair.” 

The format is similar to Spellbound, a popular documentary about kids competing in the Scripps national Spelling Bee. 

“I told her Spellbound was good,” said Cathy, “but in your film you really care about the kids. I cared about them more.” 

Her parents attended screenings during Sundance where “people stood up and gave it a standing ovation,” said Mario. 

In its review, Variety magazine called the film an “immensely likable ode to teenage science geeks upon whom our future depends.”

Sundance festival director John Cooper told Variety: “Audiences responded to the hope in this film, and how it thoughtfully depicted a rising generation of innovators.” He called it “engaging and inspiring.” 

Jonathan Jackson, artistic and executive director of the Milwaukee Film Festival saw the film at Sundance and said he “loved it, very enjoyable and smart. I hope it gets out to the masses!”

The movie review aggregate site rates it 9.7 out of 10 stars.

Cristina, who moved to Los Angeles while making the film, was traveling and could not be reached for comment. Science Fair will reportedly be shown this month at the Berlin Film Festival. There is no word about any local showings. 



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