March 22, 2005


Today I watched a wonderful documentary called Spellbound. It is about National Spelling Bee, a nation-wide spelling competition
in the US for children below the eighth grade. Initially, there are
local competitions all over the country and about 250 children
will be selected to go to Washington DC and compete for the
national championship.

In the documentary, they follow the stories of eight kids who took part in the National Bee in 1999. It starts with their preparation for the local bees and is very well paced with comments from the kids, their parents, siblings, friends and teachers. Each of the eight students is dealt separately and this takes about 50 minutes. These are a very diverse set of families. The beauty of this documentary is that the audience is made keenly aware of the passion and hard work involved and how deeply the parents, teachers and the kids themselves feel about this whole thing. Many of the kids have parents of humble origins and common place lives. Their pride in their child's abilities and how much it means to them are very touchingly portrayed. One mother says, while looking at some words her daughter had mastered, "I do not know many of these words, which is rather makes me want to go back to school". Kids too seem very matured, intelligent and make very rational assessments about various things.

Last forty minutes or so actually depict the two-day national bee in Washington. And all the tension, intensity and suspense are brought out very beautifully. We are taken through the successive rounds very efficiently and more and more children are eliminated. Some of our eight protagonsits are also eliminated at various stages. When that happens, the reactions of the parents and the kids are very interesting. All the kids are most rational and take things in good spirit. Some of their reactions are funny too. Finally one of our protagonists wins.

This documentary made a very good impression on me. The spirit and the exuberance of children is so beautiful and it is very forcefully conveyed. The actual medium of a spelling competition itself is not that important, but it is a very interesting subject. Definitely, this is a must-see for anyone interested in such things.


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