Spellbound is a riveting depiction of the lives of eight would-be spelling bee champions participating in the 1999 National Spelling Bee championship in Washington D.C. This event is broadcast annually on ESPN, and it's one of the channel's highest rated events. The story follows all of the contestants, whom we instantly fall in love with. We get a sneak peak of how each student, ranging from 10 ñ 14 years old (6th ñ 8th grade), prepares for the biggest competition of their young lives.
As with all documentaries, pure comedy emerges from honest moments, such as when a senile couple, who own a ranch, racially bash a Mexican contestant while they employ her father. Another glimpse into the "real America" is when the brother of one of the contestants from Missouri reveals that he excels in guns, weapons, and explosives.
But of all the young scholastics, none is more entertaining and mind boggling than young Harry, the dorky cover boy for the debut issue of Attention Deficit Disorder monthly, a magazine of bright colors (not words) for kids with raging ADD to look at. Harry's facial exaggerations during the competition range from cackling lunatic to confused cherub, while his 10-minute amateur comedy set on location at his New Jersey home is comparable to Woody Allen on speed while trapped in a room full of Nazis, trying to squeak out a giggler to buy himself a little more time.
These kids are put through hell. One student, the son of a wealthy Indian man, studied words for up to 10 hours a day with his stern father, when not being tutored by a spelling coach. This comes after his French lesson, which follows his regular day of eighth grade schooling...he is twelve years old. Another kid Ted, who I really wanted to learn more about (his brother is the weapons master/militia poster boy) unknowingly stumbled into spelling.
First time filmmaker/producer Jeff Blitz even tracked down the first spelling bee champion, as well as winners from various years, who were propelled through their fifteen minutes of fame only to settle for the land of the grammar "sufficient" folk with the rest of us.
I personally canít stress how enamored I am with documentaries. The real moments that shine through are more real and powerful than anything scripted, in my opinion, makes for a much more gratifying experience. The camera crew continually roll tape and the director asks minimal questions only to hook in the big fish of an answer or absurd character, who is just acting how they normally act. I'm rambling but who cares. The point is, is that this winner of "Best Documentary" at the 2003 SXSW Film Festival and official Academy Award nominee for best documentary feature, is a fantastic look at the inner sanctum of the United States school system, the competitive manner of the average human, and the mind itself, which despite hours and hours of preparation, can always crumble under pressure (insert David Bowie music here).
Source: Jason Anfinsen