Spellbound

Overview

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 ...
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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Michael Hastings
Though not without a certain homespun charm, director Jeff Blitz's debut documentary chronicling the ultimate overachiever rite of passage -- the spelling bee -- unfortunately isn't above the occasional easy laugh or cheap shot at the expense of the families it chronicles. There's a built-in narrative tension to any nonfiction competition film, and in this respect, Spellbound doesn't disappoint. Smartly, Blitz doesn't suggest that winning is dependent upon a child's socioeconomic status, desire to win, or even his or her raw knowledge. It's a crapshoot as to which one of the kids profiled in Spellbound will be the most successful, even if they themselves blame minor failures on their own inadequacies. That's the most compelling thread in the film: the psychological burden of the perennial teacher's pet. But Blitz allows some of his participants -- parents and kids alike -- to stammer on about geeky hobbies and other irrelevant personal habits to the point where the director's gaze sometimes crosses the line from sympathetic observer to nerd gawker. There's a certain social ineptitude involved with any academic endeavor, but after spending so much time with his subjects, you'd think that Blitz would have confined scenes of it to the beginning of his film instead of far into its last third.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 4/6/2004
  • UPC: 043396030312
  • Original Release: 2002
  • Rating:

  • Source: Sony Pictures
  • Format: VHS

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Harry Altman Participant, Participant
Angela Arenivar Participant, Participant
Ted Brigham Participant, Participant
April DeGideo Participant, Participant
Neil Kadakia Participant, Participant
Nupur Lala Participant, Participant
Emily Stagg Participant, Participant
Ashley White Participant, Participant
Technical Credits
Jeffrey Blitz Director, Cinematographer, Producer
Ronnie Eisen Producer
Yana Gorskaya Editor
Daniel Hulsizer Score Composer
Sean Welch Producer, Sound/Sound Designer
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