Synopsis by Mark Deming
Eight youngsters vie for one of the most hotly contested academic awards in the United States in this documentary. Every spring, the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee attracts students from all over the United States, and filmmaker Jeff Blitz follows eight promising entrants as they journey to Washington, D.C., in hopes of claiming the national championship and a 10,000-dollar prize. Neil Kadakia, from California, has spent months training for the event with the help of his parents, computer tutorials, and professional coaches. Angela Arenivar grew up in a small Texas town with her parents, who immigrated to America from Mexico; Angela's skills as a speller are self-taught, a remarkable achievement since her parents speak English only with great difficulty. Nupur Lala is determined to go to the finals in the 1999 competition, even though three boys from her Florida Junior High are determined to stop her. Ted Brigham grew up in a rural Missouri community where his intelligence has made him stick out like a sore thumb; both Ted and his teachers hope the National Spelling Bee will give him a chance to prove his gifts to his peers. Ashley White lives in a housing project in Washington, D.C., and has risen to the spelling championships largely through the help of her teachers and her own determination. April DeGideo comes from a low-income family in Pennsylvania and is determined to use the Spelling Bee as a stepping stone to a better life. Emily Stagg comes from a wealthy Connecticut family and manages to squeeze her study for the Spelling Bee in between riding lessons and practicing with her choral group. And Harry Altman, from New Jersey, wavers between joy and agony as he makes his way through the competition. Spellbound won the Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2003 South by Southwest Film Festival, and received a nomination in the same category at the 2003 Academy Awards.
spelling-bee, competition, behind-the-scenes, spelling, schoolchildren