Speak softly, and carry a big robot.
Sean McNamara‘s SPARE PARTS (2015) is based on the 2004 robotics team from Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Arizona. This group featured in Joshua Davis‘ WIRED 2005 article La Vida Robot, told a compelling tale about just how four Hispanic young men, who formed a robotics club, went on to win an underwater robotics competition against several elite institutions including reigning robotics champs, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Carl Hayden robotics tale was also chronicled in director Mary Mazzio‘s 2014 documentary Underwater Dreams.
Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), a scientist, applied for a position as a substitute teacher at Carl Hayden high school. Though overqualified for the position, he got the job. Meanwhile, in an interview at his local Army recruitment center, Oscar (Carlos PenaVega), a regarded member of his school’s ROTC program had just learned that his status as an undocumented person in the United States prevented him from joining. Undeterred, he comes across a flyer for a robotics competition and presents it to Mr. Cameron. All Oscar has to do now, is find three other members to make the team, and enter.
The other members of the team are also undocumented students at Carl Hayden high school; Lorenzo (José Julián), a shade tree auto mechanic, Hector (J. R. Villarreal), the tether man who, comes into this own while working on the robot project and Cristian (David Del Rio), the brains of the group. Despite the surmounting challenges faced at home, these unique individuals found that they are strongest as a team, and together went on to build “Stinky,” a robot comprised mostly of PVC pipe, duct tape, and spare auto parts. The group tests Stinky a few times before the actual competition. Unlike the fancy high-tech laser measuring instruments and state-of-the-art chassis of their engineering counterparts, Stinky held its underwater using “pool noodles” for balance and an “analog measurement” device or measuring tape. While the other team’s budgets facilitated by prominent industry names donating anywhere between $5,000 to $11,000 for the teams bot building projects; the team from Carl Hayden made their robot with a carefully raised 800 dollars and a trip to the local hardware store.
Although the Spare Parts (2015) film won’t win special praise for cinematography, graphics or special effects, the winning aspect of this movie is the story of how these young men were able to come together and build something of more importance than just a PVC robot, they developed confidence in themselves and their ability to make lasting friendships. Lopez’s fascinating portrayal of both Alan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi, the real-life teachers of the 2004 Carl Hayden robotics club only haloed the outstanding performances of the young actors’ Del Rio, PenaVega, Julián, and Villarreal, who provided an exceptional cinematic voice for the real Lorenzo, Oscar, Cristian, and Luis.
McNamara’s Spare Parts (2015) should be considered one of this year’s most relatable and inspiring films.
Writers: Joshua Davis (based upon an article by), Elissa Matsueda
Stars: George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carlos PenaVega, Esai Morales, David Del Rio, J. R. Villarreal and José Julián.
Art and supplementary materials courtesy ©2015 of Pantelion Films. All rights are reserved.