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  Blitz/Welch/ThinkFilm Inc  
  Jeffrey Blitz  
  Just real-life people and kids  
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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.

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