My fiancť first heard about this movie when
it was nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary category.
It follows eight children as they advance to the Scripps-Howard
National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Iím not really a big
documentary film watcher, but weíre not really a big documentary
film watching culture, so I thought Iíd give it a try.
Suffice it to say that by the end, you really didnít learn
about how children become world-class spellers so much as you
learn about how many ways there are to raise children in America.
There are families here who have all the resources in the world,
who give their daughter riding lessons and a big house in the
exurbs and tutors and private schools. There are families here
who are struggling to get by, living in the paycheck-to-paycheck
world of inner city D.C. There are families who are content
to let their son run around from distraction to distraction
as fast as his little spastic brain can carry him. There are
families who drill their son on literally thousands of words
a day, studying foreign languages in the hopes that their dedication
will give their son some slight competitive advantage. Some
parents have their childís life mapped out for the next twelve
years, some have some vague idea about joining the armed services,
and some have no plans at all. And the most remarkable thing
is how there seem to be striking similarities in the kids, despite
the different parenting styles.
Jeffrey Blitz picked a great crop of families to highlight
in this picture. Somehow, even though they all started out from
such different backgrounds, they all arrived at the same place.
Maybe heís trying to make a point about America, or children,
or something. Iím trying not to read too much into this. I keep
coming up with points that I want to make, but then reconsider
and delete. Thatís why I think this movie is so compelling;
for just showing the results of a spelling bee, it really gets
into your head, and you keep turning it over and over to try
to find out why it keeps tugging at you. Donít get me wrong
here, the movie is entertaining to watch. I especially like
how they catch up with winners from years past, and talk about
how it affected (or didnít affect) them. You begin to see some
common personality traits among the current contestants and
the past winners, and in the end the competition means as much
as you want it to mean to you. It helps that this is ďtrueĒ
documentary style, where the director stays off-camera, and
the only words that are heard come directly from the subjects
themselves; the questions that prompt the answers are understandable,
and are very open-ended. The families were remarkably open about
the different lives that they led.
If you can find this movie somewhere, it is definitely worth
a look. The release is very limited (although we in Atlanta
were lucky enough to get a hold of it in wider release due to
its Oscar lineage). I expect it to be on video release soon,
so look for it. Itís somewhat quirky, but itís really something
that you can talk about for a good long while afterwards.