A look at eight children as they make their way to compete in the 1999 USA National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, 2002 Academy Awards


Watch Spellbound above or at SBS On Demand


Every year since 1925 a national spelling bee competition is held in Washington, D.C. This documentary follows the fortunes of eight of the children who take part in the event, including Angela, whose Mexican father works as a farm-hand on a Texas ranch; April, whose dad runs a bar in suburban Pennsylvania; Neil, who lives with his affluent and ambitious Indian parents in California; Ashley, an African-American from much more humble origins in Washington; and Nupur, another girl from Indian background - in fact one thing that emerges clearly from the film is the work ethic endemic in the Indian communities.

After introducing these, and other, characters, in the first half of the film, the second half depicts the nail-biting contest itself.

This film, which is exceedingly well directed by Jeff Blitz and very well photographed by an agile camera team, borrows its title from a Hitchcock thriller, and in some ways it's as suspenseful as anything Hitchcock ever did.

Because Blitz devotes quite a bit of time to introducing the main contestants, as well as their parents, teachers and siblings, we're able to identify with them as, one by one, they're eliminated from the very challenging contest and as one by one they drop out the film becomes a genuine nail-biter.

I must say I was amazed at how many words I couldn't spell - indeed, how many I'd never even heard of!

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1 hour 37 min