US kids learn their letters the hard way

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If there is a crueller, more inhumane thing to do to a child than to enter them into America’s National Spelling Bee competition, then making a film about their ordeal would probably be up there. Fortunately, Jeff Blitz and co-producer/sound recordist Sean Welch approached their subject with exactly the right tone. While no attempt is made to play down the inherent oddness of the kids who, out of the nine million contestants, make it to the final, they are treated with affection and dignity. The parents are a different matter, basking like sharks in reflected glory and pressuring their kids with the dead-eyed ambition of the worst kind of stage-mothers.

The film-makers have been careful to recruit children from diverse backgrounds?this is, after all, a film about the American dream and the immigrant work ethic. As the competition heats up, and the subjects of the documentary are picked off one by one, failing to spell words like ‘hellebore’ and ‘logorrhoea’, the tension is almost unbearable. A fantastic little film.


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