Spellbound. Jeffrey Blitz, dir. 2002. DVD.
Review: Who would have thought that a documentary about spelling-bee contestants could be as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller? Spellbound, which follows eight kids from their early victories in regional spelling bees to the national competition in Washington, D.C., is an out-and-out nail-biter. Each of the kids—who range from a quietly driven African American girl from a run-down D.C. neighborhood, to a genial Connecticut girl who talks about bringing her au pair to a previous competition, to an almost zombie-like boy whose immigrant father has paid 1,000 people back in India to pray for the boy's success—gets captured so vividly that you can't help but get emotionally immersed in their brave, nerve-wracking struggle to spell slippery, treacherous words. Along the way, Spellbound contrasts the crazily different populations that make up the U.S. and shows how this facet of intelligence truly makes everyone equal on the podium. A riveting, wrenching, must-see movie. —Bret Fetzer
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