A while back I referred to the trailer for Spellbound, a documentary about eight kids who go to the 1999 National Spelling Bee final. I just saw it, and it was fantastic. The film has an odd structure. It's basically split into two parts, with the first half being made up of eight vignettes about the children, and the latter half being the spelling bee itself. The first half is a study in smalltown America, as we get to know the participants and their training regimes. Most are extremely articulate, a little geeky but otherwise normal kids.
As we reach the spelling bee, however, we live and die with them. The film is admirably swift and seemlessly edited. As such, it's kind of edge-of-the-seat stuff as we watch children struggle to spell words like 'nociceptor' or 'opsimath'. There's quite a bit of humour in the film, as when a Californian teenager of East Indian decent (who reviews thousands of words a day and spells them faster than I can think) really works to spell 'darjeeling'.
The film is also something of a parenting clinic. Either these kids' parents really are that nonjudgemental and supportive, or the director didn't want to tell the classic hockey Dad story. Either way, they provide an admirable example of how to manage over-achieving kids.
While watching the film, I did pause to wonder how important perfect spelling was in the compute age. After all, not all of the kids necessarily understood what all those words actually meant. Still, I suppose it's better than beauty contests.
Important: If you're going to see this movie, do not go to the National Spelling Bee site at www.spellingbee.com. Trust me, wait until after you see the film.