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:: Spellbound

Yes, how interesting can a spelling bee competition be? You have no idea! Spellbound is a look into the world of competitive spelling, for pre-teen Americans all around the country, the best of the best, who all flock to the 1999 National Spelling Bee competition. It's so big it gets broadcast live on ESPN, not to mention the $10,000 prize.

Director Jeff Blitz takes us into the homes and lives of eight 1999 champion hopefuls from all over the country. Each story is compelling to watch, especially as it all culminates in competition at the Nationals. Who will win? The tension created in the second half of the film is incomparable to any other blockbuster in current major release.

Our spellers range from the Mexican immigrants' daughter, Angela, whose gift for spelling is an amazing feat as neither her mother nor father speak any English. Angela lives on a ranch in Texas and her father works for all white, semi-racist farm owners who used to believe Mexicans were lazy workers until they met Ubaldo who brought his wife over from Mexico and have lived in the same shack since. Wuth no extra training or tutors, Angel’s defeats all odds by even attending the Nationals. How far does she go?

On the opposite scale we have Indian rich boy Neil, whose father determines he must have French, German, Spanish and Latin tutors to distinguish the origin of the words for competition. He is constantly having words thrown at him by his father and extra training and preparation, possibly as his elder daughter came disappointingly in the top 5 some years earlier. Neil is compared to an athlete who must train to win and a soldier fighting a war. And also the fact that his father will donate thousands of dollars to feed a small village in India in his name if he wins also may add to the pressure, only just. The looks of horror on his father’s face when Neil hesitates and stumbles over the word “darjeeling”? A better scenario could not have been scripted.

Harry, a crowd pleaser, cannot sit still, also a miracle of sorts winning his whole middle schools spelling bee competition on a whim, being one of the youngest contestants ever. Joke cracking, non-stop talker, possible candidate for A.D.D., no-one can barely understand what he’s talking about, least of all his own mother, however there must be a method to his madness if he’s reached this far.

The contestants’ personalities shine through this wonderfully uplifting documentary, as does the parents impact on the child. It would be great to see what happens to these engaging subjects in 15 years time.