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Documentary on the Friedmans, a seemingly typical, upper-middleclass Jewish family whose world is instantly transformed when the father and his youngest son are arrested and charged with shocking and horrible crimes.
This documentary follows 8 teens and pre-teens as they work their way toward the finals of the Scripps Howard national spelling bee championship in Washington D.C. All work quite hard and practice daily, first having to win their regional championship before they can move on. Interviews include the parents and teachers who are working with them. The competitors not only work hard to get to the finals but face tremendous pressure as the original group of over 250 competitors is whittled down and the words they must spell get ever more difficult. Written by
"Spellbound" is one of those documentaries that isn't soaked with politics or social dilemmas, but it is touches on them indirectly. It's the story of 8 kids from all over the United States, their study habits, lives, relationships with parents and personal beliefs, views and opinions. And how they make it to the National Spelling Bee Contest.
These stories are all incredibly touching - my favorite is about one of the girls' grandfathers who illegally crossed the border into the U.S., got held at a detention center, then, finally accepted into the US, worked really hard and finally now, in his old age is able to say that he is happy. That he saw his kids get great education and good opportunities; essentially that all his hard work didn't go to waste.
The film is also tense - it communicates the tension inherent in any contest quite effectively here. By acquainting the viewer with the children before the contest an empathy is established and you find yourself rooting for them. You may not even realize it until, towards the end of the film, the filmmakers throw in a brief interview with a young, Jesus-freak kid and I didn't care which one of the eight kids featured in the documentary won as long as he didn't. I got what some would call "passionate" about the outcome of the contest.
Needless to say, it's a great story. It explores the tensions of fitting in at school, parental pressure, competitiveness and hobby/interest becoming an obsession. Some have said that it is a film about America, but I wouldn't venture as far. The film says far too little about the origins and history behind the Spelling Bee contest to be about an "American phenomenon," much less about a "phenomenon" of any kind. It's a film about one Spelling Bee, but even more so about eight kids who compete in it. And their parents and siblings and teachers. It's easy as hell to get a rush of memories from childhood watching this film, and it's oftentimes easy to cringe at the intensity of the entire affair. But, all in all, "Spellbound" is a great documentary which doesn't belittle its subject, but gives it its fullest attention - the product is a tense, funny and dramatic film about kids bonding over a common obsession, while aggressively competing. Logorrhea.
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