Review: ‘GENIUS FACTORY’ on Discovery + is mind-blowing story of money and mad science.

GENIUS FACTORY

In the 1980’s an eccentric billionaire named Robert Graham wanted to create the world’s smartest kids, so he funded the largest legal genetic experiment in human history. He felt that unintelligent people were breeding too often and smart people weren’t breeding enough, so he decided to do something about it. Today, 30 years later, the children of his eugenics experiment walk the streets of America as adults. These super babies seem normal enough, but there is a hidden struggle to understand who they are and why they came to be. They struggle to understand if the Genius Factory rewarded them or condemned them.

The founder is dead, the sperm bank is closed, and the records were burned. But now, for the first time, people who worked at the bank are ready to talk, the genius children are going to meet each other and find out who their fathers are. Never before has nature vs nurture ever been tested quite like this.

Discovery+ documentary Genius Factory tells a remarkable story. In the 1980s a wealthy optometrist became fixated on creating the world’s smartest babies through selective breeding, or as it’s more commonly known, eugenics. Now the children from the largest legal genetic experiment in the U.S. are in their 30’s. As one might expect, they have decidedly mixed feelings about their origins. 

The documentary takes viewers on a journey from the eccentric billionaire Robert Graham’s personal philosophy behind the clinic to first-person accounts of clinic operations with a colorful cast of former employees in sequences reminiscent of Tiger King. Some of the most intriguing interviews, however, are with the adult children of the genetic experiment. They grapple with the knowledge of where they came from and whether their lives measure up to the grand expectations that they were born into. 

Genius Factory is a fascinating watch that mostly does an adequate job explaining complex subjects like the dark history of genetic science, the racist personal beliefs of many of the clinic’s supporters, and how the experiment weighs into the “nature vs. nurture” debate. That being said, I question the decision to include commentary from an uncompromising supporter of eugenics here. For decades, the public debate on this issue has been closed. I am not sure it is the right choice to provide a tv credit to an unapologetic eugenicist in 2021. Overall, however, the documentary does a good job shining a light on the darker aspects of this science.       

It is telling that the first frame of Genius Factory is the legendary quote from Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” As a lifelong fan of Jurassic Park, I found the introduction to be an absolute delight. Genius Factory spends the next 75 minutes detailing how much thought actually went into creating a sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners and how many people thought on balance that it seemed like a good idea.

Streaming on discovery+ May 20, 2021

Directed by Daryl Stoneage (Donkey Love, Pizzicato Five, Shlomo Arigato)

National Geographic and Disney+ review: ‘OWN THE ROOM’ is at the crossroads of passion and presentation.

OWN THE ROOM

Directed by Emmy® Award-Winning team behind Science Fair, Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, OWN THE ROOM chronicles five ambitious students from disparate corners of the planet and the victories and setbacks they face as they take their budding business ventures to Macau, China to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Santosh is from a small farming town in Nepal; Alondra works the register at her family’s bakery in Puerto Rico; Henry is a programming wiz from Nairobi; Jason is a marketing machine from Greece; and Daniela is an immigrant escaping the crisis in Venezuela, taking on the chemical industry from her lab at NYU.

Every year, students represent each country in an entrepreneurial pitch competition where 1st prize is $100,000. The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards is a life-changing opportunity. In Own The Room (filmed in 2019) New York by way of Venezuela, Nairobi, Nepal, Puerto Rico, and Greece, were represented by Daniela, Henry, Santosh, Alondra, and Jason. You will absolutely fall in love with all five of them. While these young entrepreneurs are unique in personality and ideas, their dedication is familiar and infectious. Sustainability, housing, well-being, accessibility, and communication are merely the broad categories for each of their pitches. With intimate sit-downs and real-time competition footage, this film immerses the viewer in this global, high-stakes competition.

An intriguing highlight of Own The Room is the fact that all five students have the love and encouragement of their parents. It was great to hear the families support each dream, instilling them with the confidence to succeed. Watching the preparation, their anxiety and excitement are visceral. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you wait for their pitches in Macau. First, they must get past the semifinal round. Contestants are split between seven rooms. The winner of each room makes it to the finals. You won’t believe the last-minute obstacles that Henry faces. It’s simply exhilarating. As a viewer, you’re proud of these young people. They give you hope that our future is bright. Own The Room is an inspiring documentary.

National Geographic will premiere OWN THE ROOM on Disney+ on March 12, 2020.