Review: "Own the Room"

A documentary like this one provides a much-needed dose of hope about the next generation's potential to change a volatile world, one person at a time.


Global realities like social unrest in Venezuela, mass emigration from Nepal, poverty in Nairobi, and hurricanes in Puerto Rico have negatively impacted millions, but they've also inspired young people to try to respond to these crises, as Own the Room illustrates.


The focus of the film, which was shot in 2019, is on the people more than the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards; in fact, we see only snippets of the actual competition pitches. The directors dedicate the first 40 minutes of film time to introducing the five subjects, interviewing friends, business partners, and family members, and filming their homes and local communities.

It perhaps takes the resources of a National Geographic to send cameras out to these far-flung locales to follow people around for days. But it's worth every penny. The filmmakers knew there was more emotion and human interest in the personal stories than in the actual event. (As a side note, it may be humbling for English-speaking viewers to be reminded once again what an effort people around the world make to learn to speak English with precision and grace.)

Nepal struggles with the social cost of family dislocations in what a local newspaper editor gloomily terms their "gross national sadness," making Santosh's preternaturally smiley nature all the more appealing. A full-circle moment sees him connecting with immigrant Nepalese hotel staffers in Macau.


Many young Puerto Ricans left the island following Hurricane Maria, but others stayed to help rebuild. Daniela had to abandon Venezuela for the US to continue her studies, and she talks about the immigrant experience and facing down gender stereotypes in her industry. It's an emotional moment when she's reunited with her mom in Macau.


Thanks to the equalizing power of the internet, Henry's mentor says, Africans can address widespread problems of poverty. Addressing stereotypes and racism is another thing, which we witness when Henry is unjustly detained at the Macau airport. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur can maybe get away with traveling in shorts and sandals, but a young man from Kenya apparently cannot.


Without wanting to spoil too much, it's unexpected who doesn’t get picked for the final round in the competition. It's interesting to consider how the filmmakers selected the five people to profile out of the 51 competition finalists from around the world. All of them likely had equally interesting and inspirational stories.

Read the full review at Common Sense Media.