★★★ / ★★★★
In this documentary by Jeffrey Blitz, eight kids (Harry Altman, Ted Brigham, Neil Kadakia, Nupur Lala, Angela Arenivar, Emily Stagg, Ashley White, April DeGideo) competed in the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee and one of them turned out to be the winner. I love that this film took about five minutes or so to show us the various backgrounds of the kids: their ethnicities, neighborhoods and social class. By showing their home life, the audiences came to understand what was at stake and what a win would mean for the kids, their parents and their respective communities. Although the contenstants all wanted to win, it was interesting to me how each of them had a different level of confidence coming into the competition. In fact, some of them went into the competition so convinced that they were not going to win. And I loved the girl who bluntly said that she didn’t care much about spelling bees–she just did it because she wanted to compete. Even though this was documentary, I found it to be very suspenseful. I have to admit that I did have a fascination with words in early high school and I was often complimented by teachers when I used big words. (I try not to do that anymore because I think it’s somewhat pretentious.) Some of the words, toward the earlier rounds, I knew exactly how to spell and I knew what they meant. However, on the second day of the competition, I struggled along with the contestants to spell out the words (those tricky French words… and I know a little bit of French!). Guessing who was going to be victorious was half the fun. I’m a competitive person and watching people compete just ignites that fire inside me and I can’t help but be absolutely enthralled. (Perhaps that’s why I love watching reality shows that centers on competition.) I also liked the fact that the film commented on how the American society is driven by competition and not so much in other nations. I think it says a lot about why we think the way we think and why we respond the way we do when our expectations don’t coincide with actuality. Other commentaries also included the idea that America is the land of opportunity. Some of the contestants were first generation immigrants so I could immediately relate to them. I thought this movie really captured that drive to want to succeed for the sacrifices our parents have made for us. Most people would probably say, “It’s just a spelling bee. Who cares?” But it’s not about spelling–it’s about accomplishing something not many people get to achieve.