Transitions Film Festival Review: Big Dream (USA, 2014) is a call to arms for young women interested in STEM careers

Microsoft have asked us, “Where do you want to go today?” The answer can be found in their new slogan, “Empowering us all” and in the film, Big Dream, which they helped fund. This documentary draws together the stories of several inspiring young women who are challenging the male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) industries with their ambitions, ideas and hard work. The result is an important film that should encourage a new generation of women to get involved in these areas.

Telling stories that focus on women working in fields that were traditionally male-dominated is hardly anything new. Play Your Gender examined the reasons why women aren’t involved in some parts of the music industry. Hidden Figures documented the incredible behind-the-scenes work completed by the African-American women at NASA during the fifties and sixties. At the 2017 All About Women Festival in Sydney, actress Geena Davis gave a speech where she called for more diverse female characters on screens because these inspire young girls and their career choices, just as Pauley Perrette has inspired women to study forensics thanks to her character on NCIS.

Big Dream is the debut directorial feature by Kelly Cox who has previously worked on a TV series about food called Original Fare. In Big Dream, Cox sets the spotlight on some women who range in age from their late teens to early twenties and come from America, Oman, Kenya and Costa Rica. Their stories are all quite different and diverse but this means that the overall documentary is all the more vibrant and relatable as a result. One thing that binds these girls together is their confidence, intelligence and tenacity at working in their chosen field(s).

The young women make interesting on-screen talent and they are interviewed along with their families and friends. Their achievements include so many different things. There’s Cassidy Williams who is a software engineer and developer who helmed the International Women’s Hackathon in between delivering TED talks, developing apps and fielding job offers from major tech companies. Martha Chumo is a self-taught programmer who created The Dev School in Kenya so she could teach Africans how to hack. Perhaps the most intriguing talent is Kassandra Haro who is an aspiring navy admiral who also started her own computing summer camp.

The other talent includes Bella Davenport, a homeless girl who is determined to change the face of computer science forever while also interning for the group, Black Girls Code. Mariana Quesada from Costa Rica is forced to leave home to take an internship at NASA and she created technology that enabled a phone to act like a cane for visually-impaired people. Three young women from Oman – although the focus is on the former two – Asya Mohamed Al Jabri, Marwa Saud Al Habsi and Safa Al Mukhaini created an app that assists dyslexic children. It’s fair to say that these women have already achieved so much and it’s especially amazing when you consider that they’re all still so very young and look poised to achieve even more during their lifetimes.

This film is an overwhelmingly positive one. The stories are balanced in terms of air-time, meaning that sometimes this is at the expense of delving more thoroughly into one that is perhaps more exciting or interesting. The film could have been a bit longer to address part of this issue but there is also the sense that these girls’ stories are all so big that it can be hard to tell the audience about more without overwhelming the viewer. The transition between some of the scenes could have been improved to make the story flow a little better but overall, this is a minor quibble.

Big Dream is ultimately a rich documentary that should be the start of many conversations about women working in STEM. Cox has done a great job of picking such accomplished young women and telling their stories in such an illuminating and intimate way. Big Dream is a good call to arms to young women because it’s proof that great stuff can be achieved if we simply think different (oh wait, that was Apple that said that!)

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

You can catch Big Dream at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova on 6 March, 2018. For more information on the Transitions Film Festival, or to book tickets, you can click here.