Rated: PG for mild language.
Genre: Documentary
Directed By: Jeffrey Blitz
Running Time: 1:37
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 12/28/03


I recall watching the National Spelling Bee on ESPN two years ago, and I pretty much became fascinated with the competition, shrugged, and changed the channel after five minutes. A parent in the film makes a point of saying, "The National Spelling Bee has been around for nearly a hundred years, and it's a part of Americana that has been somewhat brushed aside." I'm paraphrasing of course, but they make a good point. We live in a country where the strongest and prettiest are revered, a country where we strive to be the strongest and prettiest among our peers. Hell, we even had a reality show rewarding the most beautiful man and woman.

Who can forget the infamous "Are you Hot?" The National spelling bee does the exact opposite, it acknowledges the efforts of the losers of the competition with respect while rewarding the child who wins among over 500 children from across the country. "Spellbound" is an apt title and a glowing portrait of eight kids from humble beginnings who are training desperately for the national spelling bee. What comes with the territory of making it into the National spelling bee aside from adulation and respect is a lot of pressure which is set upon by parents who unwillingly and willingly apply pressure to their children and high expectations that they strive to reach. One child contestant from India's grandfather offered to pay people in his country 1,000 dollars to pray for his grandson non-stop, and agreed to pay 5,000 to the country if he won, now that's what's called pressure. When watching you begin to realize competing for the national spelling bee is no different than competing in a sport.

You train vigorously, sometimes with your parents, everyone relies on you, and it's an emotional situation win or lose. Some children when misspelling a word walk off stage in tears, some give a casual smile, some are humble and polite, and some mix both. One of the children focused on during the course of the documentary cries so much after losing she can barely speak. For some of these families the national spelling bee gives them hope, hope that their children can one day become famous and rich and achieve something they've worked so hard for, it gives them hope that their children can feel a sense of accomplishment and for some of the families its just another fleeting achievement among many before the competition. Jeffrey Blitz has a very casual and friendly rapport with each of the kids and their parents and its reflected on screen to the audience and in the process he manages to create a glowing and charming portrait of these smart children.

There are many stereotypes when it comes to the image of the national spelling bee and its competitors, a sibling of a competitor states. Though most of the competitors are small children with thick glasses with a somewhat impish demeanor, not all of them fit that exact description. One of the competitors focused on is extremely popular and another is a skilled athlete in martial arts and various other sports and is popular as well. Jeffrey Blitz makes the National Spelling bee attractive and appealing to the audience specifically targeted toward the younger viewers and that is something that will also attract and inspire young children to watch and inevitably try to become one of the many competitors.

These children (Harry Altman, Angela Arenivar, Ted Brigham, April DeGideo, Neil Kadakia, Nupur Lala, Emily Stagg, Ashley White, Alex Cameron, Alexander Mohapatra, Sydnor Mehr Richkind, Shuojing Song) should be given more credit than they get and they truly are some of the most intelligent children in the country. Jeffrey Blitz shows that and gives a gift of originality and innovation to a season of movies lacking such.

This is a glowing, charming, fascinating and entertaining view into the world of the National Spelling Bee and gives us a glimpse into the challenges its competitors face whenever they dare to compete.




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