Another Three Documentaries for Engineers

Bombshell, GameChangers, and Science Fair all make for fascinating viewing

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With summer in full swing, here are some more documentaries we think will make great vacation viewing: Bombshell and GameChangers are recently available for download. Science Fair is currently making the rounds of the international film festivals, so even if it’s not coming to your neck of the woods, check to see if it’s playing at your vacation destination!

  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

    Hedy Lamarr invented frequency hopping, one of the fundamental techniques that underpin modern telecommunications. Lamarr was also a huge Hollywood star in the 1940s, having fled her native Austria in the 1930s to escape a controlling husband who was a Fascist arms dealer. Bombshell introduces us to a complex woman who was frustrated by the simplistic ways in which she was perceived: as an avatar of glamour and beauty, as a trophy, and later in life, as an object of parody.

    The idea of a young actress inventing such critical technology as frequency hopping, seemingly out of the blue, led some to downplay her role, suggesting that she had lifted the idea from someone at her first husband’s munitions factory, or that George Antheil, the second name on the frequency-hopping patent, was the dominant contributor. But Bombshell shows how Lamarr had a long track record as an autodidactic inventor, and that her inspiration for frequency hopping likely came about from her fascination with a Philco remote control for her radio. Lamarr has become something of a tech icon in recent years, and this documentary demonstrates that it is for her brains, rather than her looks, that she is now revered.

  • GameChangers: Dreams of BlizzCon

    Back in the early 1990s, people started regularly linking computers together in their homes to play fast-paced games such as Doom. The action soon spread to the Internet, and by the late 1990s professional video gaming leagues had emerged.

    Nowhere has pro gaming, or eSports, been more fervently embraced than in South Korea. And perhaps no game is more strongly identified with eSports than StarCraft II, a real-time strategy game created by Blizzard Entertainment. The objective of StarCraft is to extract local resources to build powerful armies and then to use those armies to destroy the forces of opposing players. Over the course of a year, GameChangers follows the fortunes of two well-known Korean StarCraft pro gamers: MC (a.k.a. Jang Min Chul) and MMA (Mun Song Wan).

    MC and MMA can see the end of their careers looming: They are in their mid-twenties, no longer possessing quite the blisteringly fast reactions or all-consuming mania for the game that teenage players have. The goal for MC and MMA is to win the annual BlizzCon tournament. A victory there would mean a large cash prize and the chance to retire as the world’s best player.

    Frustratingly, GameChangers provides little context for those not familiar with StarCraft. There’s the briefest of discussions of how the game is actually played, and no interviews with any of Blizzard’s designers or developers. There’s also little eSport history, although the film does do a good job of explaining how South Korea’s global dominance arose from its particular “PC bang” gaming café culture.

    What GameChangers does do very well is convey the scale and intensity of modern pro gaming. If you want to understand why eSports are being considered for inclusion in the Olympics, this is the movie to watch.

  • Science Fair

    I got the chance to see this documentary at the SXSW Festival, slipping out from IEEE’s official series of conference events. Judging by the laughter and occasional sniffle around me, I can say I was not alone in my emotional response. Science Fair follows a passel of high school students—mostly from the United States but also from Germany and Brazil—on their road to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. These students come from many different backgrounds and income levels, but they are all smart, ambitious, and self-possessed. You can’t help but like them all deeply, even when some typical teenage obnoxiousness surfaces. If you’re ever worried about the future, here’s a group of young people who will give you hope.

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