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‘Spellbound’ reflects drama of spelling bees

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By Kelly Dolejsi

The kids in “Spellbound,” next up in Mesa Public Library’s Free Film Series, study for hours every day, ever driven to reach their goal of memorizing the spelling of every word in the English language — or if not every word, at least whichever ones they are asked to spell at the Scripps Howard national spelling bee in Washington D.C.
Spelling isn’t all that interesting to most people and yet, watching these eight teens and pre-teens with their flashcards, dictionaries and indefatigable parents is completely absorbing.
The 2002 Oscar-nominated documentary follows the eight through regional spelling bees right up through the national championship.
Viewers see them not only with their massive word lists, but interacting with their families and friends in their homes and between rounds at the big bee.
Part of the movie’s charm is that you end up rooting for everyone and biting your fingernails every time any kid, even one you don’t “know,” steps up to the microphone. It’s easy to get caught up in the action.
Spelling might not initially sound riveting and yet, the final rounds feel just as tense and cutthroat as any other serious competition.
What’s the final word?
Can you spell it?
I’m not much of a fan of spelling bees. I’ve never taken part in one. I don’t get any joy out of spelling or of knowing the spellings of particularly complicated words.
However, these kids are sweet, strange, earnest, excited, ambitious, smart, shy and, generally, each deserving of victory.
I was spellbound not by the idiosyncratic arrangements of letters, but by the kids.
“Spellbound” shows at 6:30 p.m., Thursday in the upstairs rotunda at Mesa Public Library as part of the Free Film Series, which offers screenings on the first Thursday of each month thanks to Friends of Mesa Public Library.
For more information, call the library at 662-8240.